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My 12 Year Old Was Much Braver Than I Was

May 11, 2015

To the left a shale slide stretched up the side of the mountain for over a hundred feet. To the right the ground fell away quickly. The shale field continued down the side of the mountain for another hundred feet. And right in the middle was the path. At times it was a generous 2 feet wide. In other places it was a  scant eight inches. 

And one of us was terrified to step out onto that path. 

Last weekend I took a little hike into the beautiful Wasatch Mountains. Our scout troop does it every year. It’s called the “Baldy hike” although we rarely summit Baldy. Here’s a picture.

We head up the canyon to the left of the G. That’s Grove Creek Canyon. We camp in the meadow above the G and then try to summit that peak on the right. That’s Baldy. Then we come down that canyon to the right of the G. That’s Battle Creek Canyon. 

Our mountains are made of granite and shale. Granite is one of the hardest rocks. The granite sections are like climbing stairs. Shale is a very weak rock. It breaks easily. It flakes off and shale fields are difficult to cross. Each step needs to be carefully chosen. Step in the wrong spot and you might have the sickening feeling of the mountain moving underneath you. 

Grove Creek Canyon has a lot of shale fields. My son was becoming more hesitant the higher we climbed. Finally, it reached a point where he couldn’t go on. Not that he didn’t want to. We were the tail end of our hiking group. Everyone including his brother was well ahead of us. Even those who had started a half hour after us had moved past us and were out of sight along the winding trail that clung perilously to the side of the canyon wall. 

Ever been scared of something so badly you can’t move? What did you do? What could I do? Encourage him, sure. I’d been doing that. Berate him? Remind him that everyone else, all his friends made it past this section? I finally decided that no amount of verbal encouragement was going to work. I stepped out beside and reached for his hand. 

Come on. We’ll do it together.

Won’t you be too close to the edge? 

No, I’m fine. I’ve got plenty of room.

Do I ever lie to my kids? Sometimes, when it’s important. And so we walked hand in hand. We both had full backpacks and that was making it difficult to stand too close together. I stepped very carefully and lightly stepped on the loose dirt and shale at the edge of the trail. About every third step sent a cascade of rocks down the side of the mountain. Each time my son tensed.

Are you okay, Dad?

I’m doing great. No problem. 

At times, I was glad he couldn’t see my face. 

I’m afraid I’m going to fall. 

You won’t fall. 

How do you know? 

Because I’ll catch you. You’d have to fall past me. 

To take his mind off his fears I started talking to him.

Do you know what it means to be brave?

To not be afraid?

Maybe, but everyone is afraid of something. To be brave is to be afraid and do it anyway. Are you afraid to cross these shale slides?


But you’re doing it anyway. Do you know what one of us is being brave?

You are.

Nope. Because I’m not afraid. Remember bravery doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid. It means you are afraid and do it anyway. I’m not afraid to walk on this trail, so I cannot be brave. The one being brave is you.  

I’m not sure he believed me. But, it was true. We tend to compare our weakness against other people’s strengths. It was true, that the trail, even walking on the very edge of it as I had to while holding his hand, didn’t scare me. It’s no great feat to do something that doesn’t scare you. 

I give lots of speeches. In fact, I enjoy it. My entire family growing up loved the spotlight. My brothers and my mother are all accomplished public speakers. We never met a microphone we didn’t like. 

Many people are terrified of public speaking. They look at me and think I’m brave. I’m not. Well, I might be, I hope I am, but not for being willing to speak in public. I’ve seen speakers so terrified they couldn’t breath. But, they spoke anyway. Those people are brave. They are brave in a way that I don’t even understand. I can’t understand it because it’s not my fear. 

Never mistake the absense of fear for bravery. And don’t assume that your peers who make something look easy like public speaking or asking questions of senior management, or moving ot a new city, are braver than you. 

Because of the two of us struggling up that mountainside, my twelve year old son was the brave one. 
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 

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