Why true heroism feeds on humility.
Courage, Seth Godin reminded us in his spectacular conversation with Debbie Millman about vulnerability, is about “dancing with the fear” — not about making the fear ago away. “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs,” Joan Didion memorably wrote. And yet, with our Pavlovian voraciousness for constant positive reinforcement, we hang our self-respect on external validation all too often and keep ourselves small by people-pleasing, afraid of what others might think. It’s a toxic habit of mind and spirit that starts early and rarely relents, which is what makes I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! (public library) especially wonderful — a lovely illustrated parable of courage, confidence, and what happens when we construct our identity around how others perceive us.
Written by Jill Esbaum and illustrated by Australian artist Gus Gordon, who also gave us the immeasurably delightful Herman and Rosie, it tells the story of a brave cow named Nadine who boasts being afraid of nothing and parades her fearlessness across various adventures as her friends look on admiringly.
One day, Nadine finds herself in the woods with her two friends, enjoying every bit of the venturesome exploration. But when night falls, Nadine suddenly finds herself alone and, to her own surprise, afraid. Terrified.
She takes the touch of her own tail for a dangerous intruder and jolts into a rocket-like run for her life, falling off a cliff and into a creek.
Miraculously, her friends are there, having spent hours wandering through the woods lost.
They mistake Nadine’s frightened foray for a courageous mission to find and save them, so they gush over her heroism as she comes to realize that bravery is not about being unafraid but about having the confidence to withstand the fear.
Complement I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! with a similarly-spirited story from a very different folkloric tradition, the Indian gem Alone in the Forest, then revisit Gordon’s touching debut, Herman and Rosie.