Authentically Brave

This is my final blog post here on Catholic Exchange. I’ve been very honored to be among this wonderful stable of bloggers the past several months. In future you can find me at and at the Kingdom of Patria.


*SPOILER WARNING* The following post reveals plot elements of the latest Disney Pixar release, Brave.

“If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?”

Thus runs the logline of Disney Pixar’s latest release, Brave, which I saw yesterday morning–early, in a very full theater–with my kids. The film’s answer to its central question is summarized by the heroine, Merida, in the film’s closing lines, which I quote from a perhaps faulty memory:

“Your fate is inside you, if only you’re brave enough to see it.”

The thought that our fate is somehow “inside” us is the dominant truth about which today’s movies–and not just family movies–attempt to persuade us. Time and again the movies exhort us to find the happiness and sense of identity we are so desperately seeking “within.”

But what is it that we are supposed to find “within”? What is that “fate” that finally comes into view when we turn inward?

In a phrase, it is our “heart’s desire.” It is the person and the life that our heart yearns to become–that is our “fate.”

The philosopher Charles Taylor, in his book on the subject, describes the yearning for authenticity in these words:

There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called upon to live my life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s. But this gives a new importance to being true to myself. If I am not, I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me.

And for me to become “true to myself” a certain virtue is demanded, one that will enable me to resist all the temptations and avoid all the pitfalls that would cause me to miss the point of my life. That virtue is bravery, or courage.

The ideal of authenticity is also sounded in Steve Jobs’s 2005 Stanford University commencement address, which especially in the wake of Jobs’s death in October 2011 has assumed a status as a cultural touchstone. Near the end of the speech, in meditating (significantly) upon death, Jobs urges the graduates:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Notice how Jobs puts it: our own inner voice, heart and intuition “somehow already know what you truly want to become.” The heart’s knowing, in other words, is a fate that somehow precedes our search for an authentic life. We just have to be bold enough to grasp it.

Going after one’s heart’s desire, however, can be a dangerous business. What if one’s heart’s desire is selfish, hurtful, or just plain silly? What’s to keep the yearning for authenticity from devolving into the sheer demand for what I want, how I want, and when I want it? No doubt Lady Gaga believes herself to be living according to her own inner voice, heart and intuition. After all, she tells us she was “born this way”–this is her fate.

But is there no way to distinguish between good and bad expressions of authenticity? Is there no justification for calling Lady Gaga’s authenticity base? Is there no justification for claiming–pace Jobs–that sometimes dogma is precisely that which enables us to experience our true selves?

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