Why We All Need Microbravery Now
Asking someone to pet their dog. Ordering an ice cream cone. Asking someone to dance. Requesting a discount on a damaged item in a store. Thanking your bus driver.
What do these everyday acts have in common? They’re all forms of microbravery: small, everyday risks that take us out of our personal comfort zones. Microbravery can be brief, even mundane. It is the opposite of showy, award winning or college-essay-generating. But at Girls Leadership, we know that good things come in small packages – and that small acts of bravery can be life-changing for girls.
In a 2014 study by Keds and Girls Leadership, we discovered a bravery gap: boys were more likely than girls to say they were brave. There are two factors that put girls behind the starting line when it comes to developing courage:
First, girls grow up hearing destructive cultural messages that limit their bravery: they hear that “good” girls should be quiet, put others’ needs before their own, play by the rules, and avoid rocking the boat. As they approach adolescence, they experience a significant drop in self-esteem, making risk taking even more challenging.
Second, all kids grow up in a culture that loves to celebrate swashbuckling, dramatic acts of courage. We’re surrounded by acts of bravery staged on screens big and small. In our bigger-is-better culture, where celebrity and attention-getting stunts are lavished with rewards, it’s easy to think small means small time.
In fact, in the 2014 study, Girls Leadership found that 59% of teen girls define bravery as a heroic act in a dangerous situation – while only 18% of teen girls define brave as standing up for their beliefs and being honest about who they are. Boys also defined courage along these lines – and we suspect plenty of parents and teachers feel the same way.
But when being brave feels like it has to be big, it can also seem out of reach to the girls and adults who want to try it — and a whole lot scarier than it has to be. No wonder half of girls don’t see themselves as brave.
We want every girl to know that being brave is a skill, one that is best learned gradually over time. Like any new skill, whether it be basketball or violin, practice, persistence and patience are key. Brave is built, not born, and microbravery lets girls flex their brave muscle slowly and in small increments. Over time, the muscle gets stronger. Eventually, girls develop the confidence to tackle bigger challenges.
Girls learn best by watching the adults they admire and care about. That’s why we’re calling on parents and teachers to embrace microbravery, so that we can model and teach it to our girls. When parents and teachers model microbravery, they provide girls with two core components girls need to develop courage: a script (the words to say) and permission (it’s okay to speak up, even if society tells you not to).
The good news is that microbravery opportunities abound! Every room we walk into offers a chance us to stretch ourselves. Perhaps it’s by making eye contact with someone we don’t know, raising our hand to ask a question during a meeting, or sending back a cold plate of food.
So what’s your [micro]brave? We want to know! We’ve got a new hashtag, #MyBraveIs, and girls and their families are writing in from all over the country to tell us about their small acts of brave. Will you join us?
Here are five steps to start the microbravery workshop in your home:
- Let your family know what you learned about bravery – 1) it can be learned, 2) it can be small, and 3 ) too many people don’t identify as brave. Share why you think it matters that your family knows they are brave: you want your family to be able to take healthy risks, and be resilient in the face of challenge.
- Take some family time to share what makes you brave with your family. This can be a micro-bravery moment, like asking for help at home, or a bigger brave, like leaving an unhealthy relationship or changing careers.
- See if they can name what makes them brave. Remind them that everyone’s brave is different, and that no action is too small.
- See if they want to share their brave on social media with the #MyBraveIs hashtag and a photo. If you’re not on social media, there are other ways to document or celebrate your conversation, but by writing out the brave attribute, and documenting the conversation, you’ll deepen the learning.
- Keep a micro-bravery chart or calendar on your fridge to show that this isn’t a one time sprint, but a journey where a skill will be built with time, practice and persistence.
- Everyone’s brave is different. Your comfort zone will be different than mine – which means what makes us feel nervous and proud will be different, too. Encourage girls (and adults) to respect everyone’s right to define their own brave.
- Brainstorm the places microbravery lives in your family’s or classroom’s life. You might even draw a map of the places your girls spend time – think of a school, sports field, or friends’ house – and have girls draw or write their microbravery opportunities.
- If you’re a teacher, start a conversation in class about what brave means. Challenge students to debate whether bravery can be big, small, or both. Have students provide examples of microbravery in literature, history and their own lives.
Brave isn’t just about what we do: it’s also about what we believe. By changing the way girls define courage, we can put it within their reach, making brave something everyone can enjoy, on their own terms and at their own pace.
Updated 12/ 17/ 2015 to include updates to #MyBraveIs campaign.