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  • When Dorothy first came upon the Cowardly Lion on the Yellow Brick Road in route to meet the Wizard of Oz, his tough guy demeanor was only bravado. If memory serves correctly, Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man were walking along, minding their own business when out popped the Lion. He immediately started his verbal fisticuffs:

    “Put 'em up, put 'em up! Which one of you first? I'll fight you both together if you want. I'll fight you with one paw tied behind my back. I'll fight you standing on one foot. I'll fight you with my eyes closed... ohh, pullin' an axe on me, eh? Sneaking up on me, eh? Why, I'll... Ruff!”

    Finally, Dorothy had had enough and she swatted and chastised the Lion. He started crying like a little baby. This is when we found that he was a Cowardly Lion and was in desperate need of some courage. His bravado was all a big, pitiful act.

    Dorothy: My goodness, what a fuss you're making! Well naturally, when you go around picking on things weaker than you are. Why, you're nothing but a great big coward!

    Lion: (crying) You're right. I am a coward! I haven't any courage at all. I even scare myself. (sobs)

    Bravado is a curious thing. It’s often exhibited by kings, presidents, parents, technology wunderkinds, bullies, bureaucrats, philosophers, idiots, savants and Cowardly Lions. In every case, it’s a façade hiding fear. Often this is not just a little “fraidy cat” fear. Sometimes the bravado is masking rampant terror and paralyzing insecurities.

    The President who puts on a military jacket, strides up to a podium on a giant aircraft carrier with hundreds of real soldiers cheering his entrance and announces: “Mission Accomplished” as a photo-op, is guilty of the worst kind of bravado. Sadly, this misguided leader was not the first, nor will he be the last to bluff his way to what he hopes will become reality. If he only had a brain.

    The rap star who pulls out a 357 magnum handgun as a part of a music video while he verbally beats his chest is not only silly but dangerous. This is especially true for the effect this cartoon character has on the little kid who believes threats of violence get you well-endowed, barely-clothed women and lots of bling. If he only had the nerve.

    A tyrant of technology, who uses physical and economic threats to “motivate” employees into more productivity, or at least blind obedience to the bi-polar personality of their leader, is using bravado in a manner that they believe is appropriate. If they are really successful in building their companies on the back of the beaten down employees, they have glowing biographies written about them. If he only had a heart.

    Bravado is the basis for the symbolically rich idiom: “whistling past the graveyard.” These whistlers are scared to death. What they lack is the courage to admit their fear and then go forward in spite of it.

    Dialog from the 1939 Movie "The Wizard of Oz" by MGM
    Photo from Flickr Creative Commons: TRF_Mr_Hyde
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