Smashing Paradigms — What is Bravery?

{latest in a developing series on Smashing Paradigms}

For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm”.

One way of defining a paradigm is “an unconsciously held belief that limits us from fresh thinking” or “we’ve always done it this way”



bravery iain jamaica pool

We often think of bravery as the stuff of myth and legend, passed down through the ages.

What if, instead, we simply considered bravery to be relative to how it feels to the individual. Take a look at the picture above. Does that boy look brave to you?

More on that later on, but first some stories on bravery in different forms, from leading to rebuilding, to reframing mental health conversations.

Bravery as a Coach with a Vision

Coach Dave Kelsheimer arrived in Cayman in the mid-1990s ago as a young swim coach from the USA. He had a vision of qualifying swimmers for the Olympics from this tiny island with one outdoor 25m pool with only six lanes. Over the years, he had to be brave on many occasions to stand up to those who didn’t believe in his vision. Cayman qualified swimmers from the Olympics in 2004, the year after they set a record haul of medals at the Caribbean junior championships (Carifta).

In 2004 Cayman was devastated by Hurricane Ivan, yet soon after that, young Michael Lockwood, in his late teens, showed up at the pool and offered to help get the pool ready for swimming again. Michael is now President of Cayman Swimming.

In 2005 Coach Dave moved on to new roles in the USA (and was a coach for USA swimming at Rio 2016), and his deputy, Coach Dominic Ross took over.

Bravery in having the patience to rebuild

The programme was decimated by Hurricane Ivan, yet Dom and Cayman Swimming set about rebuilding from grassroots. Such development takes time, yet bravery can also mean a commitment to the long haul. In 2017 Cayman once again smashed all records at Carifta. It took about 12 years to come back, but come back Cayman did.

Oh, and that picture? I’ll get to it soon, but for now, I note that it was of a 7-year-old swimmer in 2005 on the first trip overseas led by Coach Dominic Ross after Hurricane Ivan in 2005.

Bravery and Mental Health

Now, to stuff of myth and legend for a moment, then back to bravery in different forms.

In the recent film “Darkest Hour”, Winston Churchill had to stand up to almost everybody around him to make a brave decision to stand up to the threat of German invasion in 1940 rather than make peace. We all know now that he was right and his brave choice changed the course of world history. All of that is the stuff of legend, but truly the bravest thing Churchill did was to lead while living with absolutely debilitating depression, the “black dog” as he called it. As his wife says to him at such a moment in the movie: “it is your weakness that gives you strength”. His bravery in living with his depression gave him the strength to bear anything.

Seven years ago, a childhood friend of my oldest son killed himself at the age of 16. He suffered from severe depression. At the funeral, some inspirational speakers talked of the need for us to remove the stigmas around mental health. Now, in 2018, a foundation has recently been launched in Cayman in honour of Alex Panton. It is there to raise awareness, by making sure this is talked about.

I now live in the UK, where 1 in 4 of the adult population will experience a mental health problem every year, with 1 in 6 experiencing anxiety or depressions every week. That sounds like a major issue to me, yet people don’t talk about it.

I am inspired by several friends of mine in Cayman and the UK who now lead on opening up this conversation, so let me lend my voice today too. I also suffer anxiety and depression at times, and I choose not to hide that part of my existence. As my dear friend Dr Taylor Burrowes posted very recently :

“We all have emotional detours, peaks and valleys. We have had bad days, painful experiences, insecurity and fear can creep in and make us questions our every thought, feeling and choice.

We also ride waves of significant synchronicity and accomplishment; and have periods of productivity and validation.

One feels good while the other does not; this does not make you crazy. You’re experiencing this range because you are ALIVE and CONNECTED”

Let us be brave enough to talk about how we feel, not just when we are up, but also when we are down. Society seems to expect us to always show a cheery face (and social media a big exaggeration of this !), so let us all normalise the ups and downs of life. Perhaps that simple act will help people of all ages know when to talk and when to seek help.

Bravery — Coach Dave again

Something Coach Dave used to often say when addressing groups was that the bravest thing he ever saw in his life was a young swimmer standing on the blocks for the first time for their first race.

Bravery is indeed relative to the individual, it does not have to be the stuff of myth and legend. It is simply to have the courage to step out of our comfort zone, to stretch ourselves to try something new. After all, you never know unless you try.

Oh, and that photo was taken by Coach Dom Ross and is one of his favourites. A 7-year-old boy, at his first overseas swim meet, standing on the block of that oh so long 50-metre pool ready for his first race.

Dom had that picture on his facebook background for a long time, but it took me years to realise something. I knew who that boy was. That boy is now 20 years old, and in April 2018 he will be in Australia representing the Cayman Islands in the sport of swimming in the Commonwealth Games. That boy is my son, Iain.

Be brave, you never know what might happen.

Originally published at Tom McCallum.



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