Responsible Bravery


I don’t know how ideas and experiences start to stick together inside of you. How you start to notice reoccurring thoughts, to recognize rising momentum, or to sense yourself begin to lean into some new compulsion to grow.

But my interior world is intense.

It’s a fiery, electric sort of atmosphere where beliefs and opinions commute and pass each other and sometimes collide on philosophical highways inside of me.

And while ideas circle at mach speed or get deadlocked in traffic inside, Outer-Me is just trying to figure out where I parked my car or to remember to press start on the dishwasher after loading it. Let alone to try to boil all this stimuli down into some actionable responses.

Nevertheless, I try.

In a recent post called The Middle Ground Ones, I voiced that I need to grow braver.

Which brings me to today, to Part 2: learning to be brave without being stupidly brave. (Because we all know there’s a difference).

The truth is I am already brave in some respects. In person, especially in the context of relationship, I lack no boldness. This is why the Saturday before last over lunch, when I announced to two of my closest friends–Jennie and Bethany–that I need to be more brave, their first reaction was to laugh. Not a mocking laugh, but the gentle laughter of dear friends who have walked alongside you a long time. Who are, in my case, used to such quirky announcements about personal growth. And who are kindly amused by the idea that an already fiercely driven person needs to be more brave.

But it’s true. I do.

I need to be more of the right kind of brave.

Because in some seasons of my public leadership life, I’ve been more walk-out-on-the-skyscraper-ledge brave. I’ve been carelessly or obliviously brave.

I’ve drawn bravery from a more self-centered place; a place that often defaulted to conclusions about how others–people, faith systems, culture–needed to change. A place that lobbied too hard for solutions that fit me and didn’t always take into account the misfit or cost to others.

Over time, in my best moments, I’ve noticed though that bravery is best paired with softer virtues. Like certain food and drink pairings make a meal more poignant, boldness is more easily savored when plated with compassion.

So the challenge is not to be just brave, but to be responsibly brave.

One strategy, of course, when you don’t want to disrespect or dismiss people, is to just not say anything brave at all. But I agree with my friend Tony and others who insist to me that silence, especially in the face of need or injustice, is irresponsible. That neutrality often assists injustice in its work and clears the path for wrong doing.

And this is why I say, then, that I must learn to hold bravery in one hand and humility in another.

Because humility, in addition to being good for the condition of my own heart, also creates a cushion around brave words. For the listener, humility humanizes the speaker, it decreases the sense of threat, it lowers the fear of harm, it beckons benefit of the doubt.

Humility creates a better chance of being able to address hate without perpetuating it. To confront injustice without wielding more of it.

So bravery. Yes. But not without humility.

Humility suggests to me that I am not wise enough to accuse the masses, not dimensioned enough to craft a single or immediate solution that can be worn by every person.

Humility suggests to me that making room for alternate voices, retracting irresponsible statements, or backing up to re-do mistakes are not signs of weakness but of strength.

Humility suggests to me that the best arguments aren’t always the best academically constructed ones, the ones that sequence point after point after point after point that drive some inarguable conclusion. Rather humility suggests the best arguments may sometimes be the ones that are worded thoughtfully enough and with enough consideration for others that that they can actually be heard.

Humility suggests I didn’t win the argument if I polarized you on my way to accept the trophy.

Because I’m not speaking just to hear myself talk or to demonstrate my own intellect. I’m speaking because I sincerely want to engage with others and because I own my own need for ongoing transformation.

Humility suggests that assumptions and condemnation don’t liberate. That the best visions invite a shared preferable future, where the world is not just a good place for me but it rises us to bring goodness to those reading and listening too.

Because help isn’t help unless…it helps…and helps other people as much as it helps me.

Humility suggests we cannot inspire people if we don’t understand them, if we don’t hear them, if we don’t want for all of us at the end to arrive well.

So I am learning to hold bravery in one hand and humility in the other.

But I get it won’t be easy. That on many days, I’ll lean more toward one (bravery?) or the other (humility?). That I won’t get the balance right. And that even when I do find a good balance, my blog posts will still land on an internet of strangers that often feels overrun with land mines where no matter which way you turn it triggers an explosive.

Still I try. I believe in expending energy toward faith, in tying myself to principle best I can, even when I’m not certain it will produce the desired outcome.

Bravery AND humility is no easy task. It’s a call to to wield compassion like a weapon, to wage good with the same commitment we might wage war.



  • comment-avatar
    Stephen Lewis December 6, 2013 (7:05 pm)

    So true. Well articulated. I’ll be posting multiple quotes to FB from this. I would add one more thing, I think: Humility requires/means that we are willing to change, to move from our initial position. The note about listening also requires the same thing; listening well means being open to change.

  • comment-avatar
    ????? ??? ?????? December 9, 2013 (8:09 am)

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  • comment-avatar
    Jesus Benyosef December 9, 2013 (5:37 pm)

    Thank you for this, Sarah! I so resonate with this — It’s easy to step out bravely when you’ve got your psychic armor on and you’re swinging your rhetorical battle-axe. Stepping into the fight naked — now THAT takes guts! Thx again.

    • comment-avatar
      Sarah December 10, 2013 (1:51 pm)

      Thanks, John! :) Looking forward to seeing you in January.