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Tyranny Prevention

May 24, 2017 1 comment
Keynote: Timothy Snyder

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.
Keynote: Timothy Snyder. CC BY-SA 2.0

Yale University’s Levin Professor of History Timothy Snyder has written a manifesto for democracy titled On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017). This little volume (128 pages, 6” x 4.5”) packs a wallop. Although he never names anyone as his focal tyrant wannabe, the reader knows that this book is a call for individual action to prevent the inevitable consequence of inaction in the face of power grabbing.

As one action that I will take in response to his words, I have summarized his 20 admonitions for those of you who do not relish reading. That said, I strongly urge you 1) to read this little book, and 2) to find your own way of preventing tyranny. Together, we can.

The bolded introductory statements are Professor Snyder’s wording. The defining examples are my wording, including a couple of his examples.

  1. Do not obey in advance. “Anticipatory obedience” occurs when eager followers desirous of pleasing the leader initiate acts they imagine the leader would encourage, as in the SS killings in 1938 Germany before being commanded to do so.
  2. Defend institutions. Advocate for organizations that are important to you: EPA, NEA…
  3. Beware the one-party state. Fight for the integrity of the electoral process—stand up against efforts to gerrymander districts. Hurrah for yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling against two gerrymandered districts in my home state of North Carolina!
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Czechs wanting nothing to do with Communism posted signs such as “Workers of the world, unite!” thinking authorities would leave them alone, assuming they were of a Communist leaning. Didn’t work. Remove or otherwise eliminate signs or symbols of hate or intolerance.
  5. Remember professional ethnics. Professional associations can make stronger statements than can individuals—while it may be difficult for one lawyer or one doctor to resist a malevolent force, they may appeal to their colleagues to provide ethical force in large numbers. In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, one woman couldn’t stop war, but when all women threatened their men with abstinence, war was rethought!
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries. In a democracy, only the acknowledged governments (local, state, federal) have the right to police.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you must carry a firearm, maintain the personal authority to say “No!” to its use as a tool of unjust oppression.
  8. Stand out. Without Winston Churchill’s emergence, England may well have languished. He stood out, and up, to Hitler. Similarly, Gandhi, MLK Jr., and Sally Yates have stood out/up/alone.
  9. Be kind to our language. Tyrants repeat misused words until followers reify them. Resist by keeping your public language fresh and accurate. “The American people” is not the same thing as “my fan base.” Read great novels for ideas on how to speak truth to power.
  10. Believe in truth. No declamation without verification. Insist on knowing sources. Demand verifiable evidence. Check with the fact checkers. Protect the fact checkers. E. O. Wilson in Consilience posits that it is not politics and religion that divides us, but rather cultures that do not respect evidence.

    tyranny.jpg

    Mother with her Dead Son. Kathe Kollwitz. 1993. Berlin. (A memorial to the victims of tyranny.) CC BY 2.0.

  11. Investigate. Develop a nose for sniffing out fake news. Turn a deaf ear to blatant misstatements (“My program is the best possible that could ever be conceived.”) and correct them when and where possible. Before passing along a suspect, outlandish tidbit that stretches reason, check it out on snopes.com. Inform yourself—don’t shy away from reading a longer article when you suspect it has helpful information. Be one of the (hopefully increasing) well-informed electorate. Don’t just follow sources that confirm your biases. Conservatives must watch channels other than Fox News, and Liberals must watch other channels than MSNBC. I intentionally follow Al Jazeera on my iPhone. And the BBC. Look beyond your backyard/border.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk. It is easy to look friends in the eye and chat them up. It typically takes more effort to look strangers in the eye—particular those different from us—and make friendly small talk. Catching the eye of a potentially downtrodden person—or even someone who is visually different than you—and chatting briefly with them will make their day (better) and leave them less fearful.
  13. Practice corporeal politics. Get your bod and brain out into the world and make friends and connections beyond your private circle. On the other hand…
  14. Establish a private life. Protect your privacy and that of others by securing your computer and supporting organizations that advocate for human rights.
  15. Contribute to good causes. Support two or more organizations that advocate for a civil society—dollars add up, so don’t hold back because you could only make a small contribution! Think of autopay of a dollar a month to your good cause(s) as an inoculation against tyranny. When a million others join you, we have budgeted for tyranny prevention.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries. Keep your passport active, maintain relations around the world, and establish new ones. In the worst case, you may need a new home.
  17. Listen for dangerous words. Tyrants are extremists who are under the illusion that they are mainstream—that everyone values their agenda, and they use alarming words to cajole the masses into huddling into their fold: “so-and-so is a liar, so don’t listen to them—listen only to me,” “these are extreme times, so embrace my extreme methods,” “terrorists threaten our democracy, so bear with me as I suspend your liberty to stamp them out,” “emergency conditions require extraordinary responses powers,” “such-and-such is a total failure, so you must embrace my replacement for it,” “circumstances require that we make exceptions to the law,” or “Deutschland über alles.” Prefer “America and Germany and all their co-inhabitants of Mother Earth and the Cosmos.”
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Founding father James Madison identified emergencies as the primary hotbed for tyrants—authoritarians emerge to manage terrorism and exact the price of personal freedoms in return. Their mantra: “I’ll keep you safe if you do all that I say.”
  19. Be a patriot. Pay your taxes. Support our military. Vote. Volunteer. Support our news organizations. Decry bad leaders at home and around the world. Support the values that our country espouses—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  20. Be as courageous as you can. Be prepared to be demeaned, to be fired, to be imprisoned, or even to die, by insisting on the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Understanding Your Panic Button

September 21, 2016 Leave a comment

I have more terms of endearment for my wife than there are waves headed for the beach. And like waves, they just keep on coming.

Turn-of-the-century anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942) first identified this phenomenon. People have more words for things that are most important to them. Snow is vitally important to those living within the Arctic Circle. North Alaskan Inuits have over 50 words for snow, and the Samis of northern Scandinavia have a thousand terms for reindeer.

In today’s advanced cultures, life is so complex that many of us seem to live under constant stress. So long as all of our balls remain juggled in the air, we are fine. But often they fall crashing to the ground, and we have to address the crisis. Stress is important because we can’t avoid it and we have to figure out how to alleviate it. Because stress is so important to us, we have developed quite a vocabulary to refer to these dropped balls, just as the Sami speak of reindeer:

  • The sky is falling
  • Everything has come crashing down
  • I’ve just used one of my nine lives
  • The s*** has hit the fan
  • All hell has broken loose
  • The end is near
  • I’m packed in snowball that is rolling downhill gathering more snow
  • Everything has gone to hell in a handbasket
  • SNAFU (Situation normal—all fouled up!)
  • The bottom fell out
  • My life is like a three-ring circus without a circus master
  • Everything is turned upside down
  • I’m living in a whirlwind
  • I’m feeling topsy-turvy
  • The props have fallen out from under me/us

And there are more. I’ll bet you can add to this list by posting a comment below.

rodin-la-porte-de-lenfer-cc-by-nc-nd-2-0

Paris–Musee Rodin: La Porte de l’Enfer, photo by Wally Gobetz, 2007, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I recently wrote about “When You’re Not You.” Most people are not themselves when the bottom falls out. Those who are low in Big Five Need for Stability, or Neuroticism, are typically unaffected by life’s major stressors. It takes a prodigious amount of stress for these serene people to change behavior. That’s a minority of the population—about one in three. Good for them! But the rest of us—two out of every three—writhe as though someone were controlling us with an equalizer board turning our knobs to make us more intense in various ways. I am reminded of Auguste Rodin’s early 20th century sculpture La Porte de l’Enfer (The Gates of Hell). It depicts the Thinker posed before over 100+ figures in hell from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. The thinker represents those unaffected by turmoil—the calm one in three, while the characters in the background represent the rest of us who are affected by stress.

Most of us undergo a quantitative change under stress. We become more of what we have more of already. Each of us has traits that are stronger than others. For example, my imagination is stronger than my sociability, and my trust is stronger than my methodicalness. Under stress, being someone who is higher on Need for Stability, I become even stronger in imagination and trust. I will dream up wild escape plans and trust strangers whom I would normally keep at a distance.

To say we’re not our normal selves under major stress, I mean it in a quantitative sense, not a qualitative one. We are more intense in our salient traits[1].

  • If we are normally trusting, we become more trusting under stress.
  • If we tend towards perfectionism, under stress we become more perfectionistic.
  • If we tend to have a temper, under stress we have an even quicker trigger.
  • If sociable, more sociable.
  • If solitary, even more solitary.
  • If comfortable with the details, we wallow in them even more.
  • If competitive, then even more so.
  • If deferential, then we can become a doormat.
  • If optimistic, then we become Pollyannaish.
  • If pessimistic, then we become a doomsdayer.

So, the way we change under stress is that we become more of who we are, like a salty dish becoming more salty, a sweet dish more sugary, or a sour dish downright pungent. We change, but quantitatively, not qualitatively. In intensity, not in kind. Under stress it is as though our personality were a tongue that lost half of its taste buds and needs stronger flavors just to taste anything. Sock it to me, sock it to me. Turn up the volume.

A word to the wise: Perhaps this ramping up of who we are under stress has survival value, in an evolutionary sense. Perhaps it has worked to some creatures’ advantage to become more intense rather than different—to change how many stripes, not the kinds of stripes. Maybe fast gazelles ran even faster, clever creatures became even sneakier, when under attack. But we moderns are not always best served under stress by turning up the volume on our strengths. We need to question whether these natural tendencies serve our best interests. It might pay for us to consider not being more intense in who we are under stress, but the opposite. Maybe your sociability should yield to solitary reflection, my trust become more skeptical, and my imagination take back seat to being more practical and appreciative of the tried and true and what is known to work.

We are not gazelles who always need to run faster to escape the leopard. We are humans who can pause to reflect and consider our options. We don’t have to do it alone. Partners make great stress busters. In lieu of a partner, try aerobic exercise to find your calm spot that is conducive to problem solving.

[1] For a summary of the exploratory research that supports this statement, email me (pjhoward@centacs.com) for “State of Trait Levels under Stress”, by Bennett, Ey, and Howard, CentACS, 2015.

What Does Meaning Mean?

September 16, 2016 3 comments

Give me a break! That was my first thought when I read these passages in a scholarly article:

  • “How do students make meaning when they explore their strengths?”
  • “Does their meaning-making influence their daily lives?”
  • “Identify your strengths and give them meaning.”
  • “Enabling a deep analysis of personal meaning-making…”
  • “Depending on individual meaning-making, etc….”
  • “…reflection and other meaning-making processes.”
  • “…which leads to a more meaningful
  • “This can be a complex meaning-making experience.”
labyrinth-by-brainwise-2005-cc-by-nc-nd-2-0

Labyrinth, by brainwise, 2005, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (Labyrinth at Columcille Megalith Park, Bangor, PA)

 

What do all these uses of “meaning” mean? For me, they are undefined jargon—terms used by a writer who cannot find a more concrete way to say what is on their mind. But “mean” and “meaning” are perfectly good, simple, and concrete words until they get elevated to the clouds and semantic obscurity. “Mean” comes from the Old English “mænan,” which is defined as to intend, to have in one’s mind. When we ask the meaning of something, we are saying we don’t know the definition of a word someone has used (What does expialidocious mean?), the purpose of a behavior (What is the meaning of that glare?), or what a written or spoken message was supposed to communicate (I heard/read what you said/wrote, but I don’t know what you mean!).

I suppose that the writer of the above bullets was referring to the degree to which an individual derived value from an experience, or how they reacted to it. What were they feeling inside? What do they know now that they didn’t know before? What did it make them think of? I am reminded of “Sentence Completions”–a facilitator’s guide to helping participants report to one another how they reacted to a shared experience. Let us say that you show a film about prejudice to a group. As a way of helping the individuals evaluate that experience and speak about it with the others, the facilitator might ask them to complete one or more of these sentence stems:

  • I learned that I…
  • I realized that I…
  • I was pleased that I…
  • I was displeased that I…
  • I was surprised that I…
  • I rediscovered that I…
  • I noticed that I…
  • I re-learned that I…
  • I was amused that I…
  • I was saddened that I…
  • I regret that I…
  • I look forward to…
  • I wish I had more…
  • I wonder if…
  • I wonder why…
  • I wonder about…
  • I wonder whether…
  • I wonder when…
  • I wonder how…
  • I plan to…
  • I am optimistic that I…
  • I am pessimistic about…
  • I wish I could change…
  • I wish I had…
  • I need to…
  • I want to…
  • I was perplexed about…
  • I’m planning to contact…
  • I need more…
  • I need less…
  • I will never…

values-toolkitIf someone is unable to fill in any of these incomplete sentences, then it is probably safe to conclude that they did not find the film experience “meaningful.” This list, incidentally, is taken from my book The Values Toolkit: Application Manual for The Owner’s Manual for Values at Work (Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, 2016). It is an activity called “Sentence Completions” and is based on a similar activity popular in the Values Clarification literature in the 1970s.

values-at-workSo when we think about asking someone whether or not they had a meaningful vacation, date, interview, trip, worship, or some other kind of experience, what we really mean (i.e., intend) is to ask them what they enjoyed, learned, hated, what was the high point/low point, and so forth. Did they have an emotional reaction or a cognitive gain? Or both?

Rather than ask whether something is meaningful to someone, try getting more specific. As in, now that you have read this blog, rather than my asking you whether or not it was meaningful for you, I will ask you: Was it worth your time to read this blog? If so, in what way? If you have trouble answering, refer to the sentence stems above!

Beauty, Billions, and Brains

August 10, 2016 Leave a comment

My search for summer reading led me to a first novel by Stuart Rojstaczer (ROYCE-teacher)–The Mathematician’s Shiva (Penguin, 2014). Hadn’t heard of it, but it sounded intriguing—a fictional, brilliant, female, University of Wisconsin mathematician named Rachela Karnokovitch was dead, and brainy mathematicians from around the were globe sitting shiva. Much of the story dealt with the difficulty of brainy people letting their abilities shine in public, with many, especially women, preferring to hide their smarts.

Woman Thinker-Stanley Zimny

Rachela’s son, Sasha, also a mathematician, at one point mused about what it meant to be an intellectual—someone who uses mental acuity to guide their life rather than acting only on impulses, faith, and whims. Such intellectual activity entailed asking for definitions, evidence, facts, and their ilk. Think of it as critical thinking.

 

One passage struck me as important to share. Sasha, given to comparing American and eastern European culture, mused about how persons with money and beauty are encouraged to go public with their gifts, while persons with brains are discouraged:

To Americans, the outward display of intelligence is considered unseemly. The Donald Trumps of the world can boast about their penthouses and Ferraris, their women can wear baubles the size of Nebraska, and no one says boo. If you have money, you’re almost always expected to flaunt it. But intellect? This is something else entirely. Women, especially, are supposed to play dumb. One of the richest men in America has said publicly that if your SAT score is too high, find a way to sell 200 points. Supposedly you don’t need them.
This inability of Americans to value intellect is, to me, maddening. If someone possesses physical beauty, they will not be cloistered or hidden in dark shadows. No, they are expected to be the source of pleasing scenery to others. We are not frightened in this country by beauty. We celebrate it, as we should. But what about beautiful brains, the kind that can create amazing worlds out of nothing but thoughts, that can find a way to intricately bond elements of our lives and our ideas that conventional wisdom tells us are inert? Why should anyone hide this intellect ever? No. F—-g boring financiers like Warren Buffett. If you have a high score on your SAT, don’t sell a single point. In fact, find a way to get smart enough to achieve a perfect score. There is no such thing as unnecessary beauty, whether it be physical or intellectual. (Kindle location 3401)

I am reminded of E. O. Wilson’s comment that the world needs more citizens who require evidence before making decisions, that it is not differences in politics and religion that entail strife, but differences in the willingness to think critically rather than to uncritically follow a leader. Said another way, we need to celebrate intellect, not hide it. Don’t be timid in asking questions and searching for evidence. It is a rich, beautiful thing.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving (6. Perfectionism)

April 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Good enough for government work—not! The government has its share of perfectionists, as well as its share of those with casual standards. Perfectionism is normally distributed throughout the world. It is neither a good nor a bad thing—rather, its value depends on the needs of a particular situation.

My wife once worked with a government department whose manager was noted for bleeding red ink over all outgoing correspondence generated by their office staff. Not once, but draft after draft. A professional might submit a draft ten times before the perfectionist manager found nothing more to perfect and finally approved the letter for sending.

What causes people to be perfectionistic? In five previous posts, I presented behaviors that are often interpreted in one way but that could have other possible causes. First, we considered how fidgeting is not always impatience. Then, how solitude is not necessarily loneliness. Third, how smiling is not always liking. Fourth, how bravery is not always prompted by courage. And then last week, how volunteering is not always altruistic. I call these multi-source behaviors. Perfectionism is sixth on my list. People engage in perfectionist behavior for diverse reasons.

Tibetan sand art

Gaden Shartse Tibetan Monks, S. C. Hargis, 2010. CC BY-ND 2.0

Swarthmore College social psychologist Barry Schwartz, in The Paradox of Choice (2004), identified two extremes of decision-making—satisficing and maximizing. A satisficer is the proverbial good-enough-for-government-work decision-maker who, for example, might go to one office equipment store, look at their desk chairs, try one or two out, and then make a decision on the spot. A maximizer, on the other hand, is the proverbial make-a mountain-out-of-molehill decision-maker who expands every decision into a do-or-die situation. The maximizer might, for example, go to ten office equipment stores, sit in over 50 chairs, comparing prices and features constantly, and finally make a decision, agonizingly, while the satisficer has used the same time to write the great American novel.

So, why do maximizers do it? Why do people need to make every decision a major event? And, on the other hand, why do some not care about zero defects, ever?

As with other multi-meaning terms, perfectionism springs from many motives. Pittsburgh psychologist Pavel Somov has identified four sources of perfectionist behavior:

  • Neuroticism: striving for perfection in hopes of receiving attention and approval—arises out of a personal sense of insecurity
  • Narcissism: striving for perfection, especially on the part of others, as a way of offsetting low sense of self-worth
  • High-principles: striving for perfection as a form of moral, even Puritanical, righteousness, which can cause a judgmental effect toward others around them
  • Hyper-attentive: striving for perfection because of an innate temperament that finds concentration natural and satisfying

I would add these possible causes:

  • Need for control: a form of micromanagement in which everything needs to be done “my way”
  • High will to achieve: a genuine desire to be expert, or even to be the best, similar to the motive that spurs people to aspire to the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice described by Florida State University psychologist Anders Ericsson
  • The consequence of mastery: the Dunning-Kruger effect asserts that the best of the best have an acute sense after every performance that they could have done better—they see flaws in their performance that second-tier performers are clueless about
  • Competitive threat: a genuine concern that unless one is focused on perfection that one will be destroyed in business by masterful competitors
  • Following a model: never knowing anything different, as the Tibetan monks who have grown up with peers who model perfection daily
  • Aesthetics: taking deep pleasure in seeing something perfectly executed

Regardless of the motive for the occasions on which we are perfectionistic, we must realize that perfection is not always called for, and is often seen as satisfying more of a personal need that is of no or minimal benefit to others. To develop a sense of when, and when not, to be perfectionist is to develop the habit of asking for feedback from those who know us, and to develop the habit of being receptive to what they suggest.

showing up

Perfection Paralysis, Neshika Bell, 2013. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Appearances Can Be Deceiving (5. Volunteering)

April 20, 2016 Leave a comment

“Never volunteer for anything!” That is what they cautioned me when I left the comforts of home in eastern North Carolina for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in the sweltering Fall of 1963.

In four previous posts, I presented behaviors that are often interpreted in one way but that could have other possible causes. First, we considered how fidgeting is not always impatience. Then, how solitude is not necessarily loneliness. Third, how smiling is not always liking. And then last week, how bravery is not always prompted by courage. I call these multi-source behaviors.

So how is volunteering a multi-source behavior? When I was in elementary school, I

Volunteer.jpg

Volunteer, by Andrew A., 2012.      CC BY-ND 2.0

remember that my classmates tended to label students who volunteered to help the teacher as “pets.” Cute, but definitely a put-down. Many forms of volunteer behavior pepper the day: offering to pick up lunch for the team, raising one’s hand when the first sergeant asks for three volunteers, offering to help the host clear the table after a dinner party, responding to a request for volunteers to help at school, hospital, marathon, disaster, Katrina, the recent earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador—the list could go on seemingly forever. Likewise, many explanations exist for why people raise their hand in such circumstances:

  • genuine altruism (no ulterior motive other than to help someone)
  • selfishness (to get on someone’s good side)
  • boredom (needing a change of pace)
  • curiosity (to find out what something is like)
  • romance (to get closer to someone you have an eye for)
  • pride (wanting to make sure the job is well done)
  • happiness (sensing that the volunteer activity will provide a rush of positive emotion)
  • self-inflating pessimism (thinking those involved will get it wrong, and that you are needed to get it right)
  • goal relevance (thinking that this volunteer service will move you closer to attaining a goal)

Milton Rokeach might call these terminal vs. instrumental motives, with genuine altruism being a terminal motive (doing it for the value in-and-of-itself), and the others being instrumental motives (doing it with some other end in mind).

So when I reached basic training and the first sergeant asked for volunteers, what did I do? I volunteered, of course! I volunteered to do extra k.p. (kitchen police, as in peeling potatoes all morning), to haul ammunition from a warehouse to a shooting range, to play the drum in a parade, to unload trucks—any time he asked for volunteers, my hand shot up. Why? What was my motive? Was I just a good guy and a glutton for punishment? To understand my volunteering for everything in basic training, you need to understand that I abhor being marched around, waiting in formation, and herded like cattle. I didn’t like marching in high school band, and I didn’t like marching and standing in formation at Fort Jackson. It was boring and regimenting. I volunteered in order to break up the monotony of same old, same old.

As it turned out, my instinct to ignore the advice about never volunteering paid off. I had a portable chess set that was the size of a postcard and thin as a book’s hard cover. It had flat plastic pieces that fit in narrow slits. During my volunteer episodes, the supervisors (usually corporals or buck sergeants) typically felt kind of sorry for us and gave us frequent breaks. I could always find someone who either a) played chess, or b) was willing to learn the game. So after an hour of hard labor, we got an ice cold Coca Cola in the South Carolina September sun and settled down for a 30-40 minute game of wits under the restorative shade of a giant oak until time for more labor.

Not bad, huh? Certainly better than standing in formation and marching like an army of ants. For me, at least. Not a sergeant’s “pet,” just an independent son-of-a gun!

Appearances Can Be Deceiving (4. Bravery)

April 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Think twice—what you see may not be what you think.

In three previous posts, we explored situations in which a single behavior might have multiple meanings and interpretations. First, we considered how fidgeting is not always impatience. Then, how solitude is not necessarily loneliness. Last week, how smiling is not always liking. I call these multi-source behaviors.

Every behavior has a source—a set of conditions that explains why the behavior occurred. 20th century German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin described this in an equation: B = f(P, E). Or, behavior is a function of the interaction of personality in an environment. Just as no person is an island, no personality trait is an island acting independently of its context. A person whose traits include a strong comfort in thinking through complex issues is likely to yawn when conversing one day with gossipers, but then look animated another day when conversing with theorizers. Whether yawning or animation happens is a function of their personality (complexity) and environment (simplistic or complex conversation).

Similarly, today’s subject—bravery—is a function of personality and

Bravery by de la Cruz

 

Bravery, by Richard dela Cruz, 2011. CC BY-ND 2.0

 

environment. Personality traits that could account for acts of bravery include nerves of steel, optimism, anger, high activity level, a preference for taking charge, low trust in others, imagination, competitiveness, pride, selflessness, ambition, or just plain rational thinking about what needs to be done. And of course a major factor that leads to acts of bravery is skill—it is more likely that a strong swimmer will jump off a boat to rescue a non-swimmer than would a weak swimmer. But whether each of these traits might activate and cause a brave behavior is a function of the environment—the situation surrounding the person/animal/etc. in distress. Are they a relative, a loved relative, a hated relative, a friend, an enemy, a family heirloom, one’s life savings, a helpless person, known or unknown, or are they important to realizing one’s ambition?

Acts of bravery could range from a skilled fighter chasing away a bully from an unknown, defenseless person (low personal risk and high chance of success with no obvious potential for personal reward—just doing the right thing) to an unskilled swimmer charging into the surf to rescue their drowning child (high personal risk and moderate chance of success with high personal reward). One more selfless, the other more self-serving. Not all bravery stems from a common motive. Make no assumptions. Before ascribing an act of bravery to a cause, to a bravery mindset, have a dialog with the brave person or those who know them, and determine what it was about the brave person’s personality, in combination with the context of the event, that most likely led to the brave response in a desperate situation.