Dispatch from Seattle v3: On bravery

We have a sensationalized view of courage and bravery. It comes from the movies, where the bravest among us are willing to sacrifice it all to save a loved one or to stand up for a sacred principle.

We think of being brave as “staying at our post” during a time of battle, or of being strong for the weaker among us by doing things that we are expected to do, even when they are hard.

You get the idea.


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You know how we define brave today.

But, in the COVID crisis, that’s usually the exact opposite of what is needed, of what this virus calls us to do.

Don’t get me wrong: bravery is needed during this time as much as ever.

But, it’s not the kind of bravery you think it is.

I have a friend who runs a sports league for kids in the Seattle area. She is doing everything she can to keep the league going through this crisis. At one point she told parents and coaches that the league would continue to hold basketball practices outdoors in groups of 49 or fewer.  She said that in spite of the risk to herself of getting COVID, she would soldier on for the kids.

This is our job, to be there for these kids, so we are going to make ourselves available to coach these kids outdoors since recreational facilities have been closed to our league. It’s the right thing for us to do for these kids.

This is the sound of bravery under the old rules of the big screen. Something akin to “I will put myself at risk for the good of the children.”

But, in a time of COVID, that’s not what the moment calls for. That’s not being brave.

That’s being selfish.


Another friend is a lieutenant in a fire department. He’s been a fire fighter and a paramedic. Now, he’s one of the leaders of his department.

When he is out on a truck on a call with other fellas, the protocol he has developed is to leave the guys in the truck until he has scoped out the situation.

He’ll go into the home or building on what are not usually calls of an actual fire. These are often folks that are older and may be having an event, or perhaps individuals struggling with mental health challenges. Or, they could be folks with acute respiratory distress symptoms, like those that appear with COVID.

My friend says he’s been exposed a number of times. He wears personal protective equipment to protect him, but he recognizes that these aren’t adequate for the virus.

He’s 57 years old. The guys in the truck are in their 30s.

He thinks he’s being brave by protecting the younger men, some of whom don’t have families.

That’s not brave, however.

That’s ego.

It’s the kind of mentality that leads men into battle – when you’re 27 rather than 57. At 57, whether it’s the field of battle or the world of the coronavirus, a 57 year old is more likely to fall on the metaphorical battlefield. And, if that happens, his hard earned wisdom and experience will be lost for his team and his community.

It’s nice of my friend, but it’s the wrong move.


Bravery in a time of COVID demands for you first to be smarter than you needed to be before. And, it needs you to make hard decisions that put you and your family at risk for the betterment of the community.

In this case, bravery looks like canceling the league and being candid with the kids and the parents – even when that means a revenue hit, and my friend perhaps losing her job.

Bravery means HIMSS and SXSW closing down for the year – even when those organizations don’t have insurance to cover their losses.

And, sadly, bravery can mean laying off or furloughing some of your employees to make sure that your organization can make it through a tough time.

Bravery is not putting your employees above yourself as a small business owner, while the organization sinks into bankruptcy. Bravery is not maximizing profits during this time.

Bravery is making sure the lights stay on.


Bravery is also being vulnerable in a time when we’re all a little scared. Vulnerability is the opposite of ego

The last friend I’ll tell you about is an ER doc at a Seattle-area hospital. The ER is close to overwhelmed by the disease.

His guidance to me today was simple: “This will be our finest hour. I’m scared, mostly.”

Vulnerability. Perspective. Community.

This is what bravery looks like.

This is what our moment calls for: bravery that is smart, has a long time horizon, and exudes vulnerability.