Choose Courage


When confronted with news of a stranger’s unimaginable pain – a suicide, an overdose, a protest for justice and basic dignity – we have two choices: We can choose to respond from fear or we can choose courage.

We can choose to believe that we are somehow insulated from the realities of these traumas and that our willpower or our strength of character makes us better than these displays of desperation and woundedness. When we seek shelter in the better than – safer than – different than thinking, we are actually choosing fear and that requires us to self-protect and arm ourselves with judgment and self-righteousness.

Our only other option is to choose courage. Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty. Courage is my friend Karen standing up and saying, “I am affected.” 

The courageous choice also does not mean abandoning accountability – it simply means holding ourselves accountable first. If we are people of faith, we hold ourselves accountable for living that faith by practicing grace and bringing healing. If we consider ourselves to be smart and curious, it means seeking greater understanding. If we consider ourselves to be loving, it means acting with compassion.

It’s difficult to respond to the tragedies of strangers – even those we think we know – because we will never have access to the whole truth. In the absence of information, we make up stories, stories that often turn out to be our own biographies, not theirs.

Our choices have consequences: They make the world a more dangerous place or they cultivate peace. Fear and judgment deepen our collective wounds.  That rare mix of courage and compassion is the balm that brings global healing.

We have two choices. Let’s choose courage. Let’s choose to love despite the fear.


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  3. David

    I very much appreciate the reinforcement of the importance of feeling, the pain of the circumstance, which opens the possibility for greater understanding and compassion, leaving aside the responsibilities of judgement. I am learning to develop the necessary ingredients for true compassion, and in that, I find healing for myself, and the potential ability to provide healing for others. It works…thank you,

  4. Rebecca

    Thank you for this insight. I always come away from your info–book, blog or ted talks feeling inspired and encouraged.

  5. Lynn Young

    In this world…at this precise moment in time…these words are so needed, Brene. With a beheading. With the sacred unrest in Ferguson. With us crumbling and reeling and realizing that at our core, we are ONE. (Or forgetting this, to great peril). We/they. Us/Them. Ours/Others. All build false protection, not peace. And so—your words, falling at the moment our world needs them. Today. I choose courage with you. I choose love. Thanks for this beautiful reminder.

  6. Joellen

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    The clearbess in your publish is simply copol and that i can assume you are a professional oon this subject.
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  7. Duane P Leigh

    excellent way to look at life

  8. Robert

    It is always a deepening for me, one that moves me out of the way and allows love to pour forth. Thanks for this beautiful post. Namaste.

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  10. Lorrie

    Could it be that the reason it is so hard to find responsibility is because responsibility is about accountability and to be accountable may make you vulnerable? Early morning thought. Maybe I will find it not true when I get to the bottom of my coffee cup.

  11. Your moode of describing all in thi article is really nice,
    every one be capable of easily know it, Thanks a lot.

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  13. Melissa

    I think these principles are good in theory. I can hear myself offering the same advice to strangers but in practice (in certain circumstances), I find it far more difficult. Where is the line between compassion and codependent as an example?
    As a daughter of an addict with a mental
    Illness, I grew up resenting some of my family for not stepping in to help my father. However, as a grown adult and sister of an alcoholic with a mental illness, I have spent the past five years “showing compassion” and “being there” to life her spirits or try. After a while, I’ve become consumed and weakened by it myself which does nothing to help those in need. I’ve actually stopped all of my normal volunteering out of exhaustion for what’s a part of my daily life. When a family is dealing with mental illness and addiction, I just don’t know that it is that easy and I don’t think they deserve to be shamed for their exhaustion either. I love your work, I’m just offering a different side.

    • Rachel

      Very good point, and one that needed to be made. There is a limit to how much of another’s pain you can take on without loosing yourself. It’s a fine line between being there and showing empathy, while still able to maintain your own sanity and well-being. There is nothing to be gained for ANYONE by going down with the ship as well.
      I completely agree that it is so important to be ready, willing, and able to empathize and refuse to judge another person, but it is also just as important to be grateful to know that you are NOT in that situation. Light and dark and all the rest, it is entirely possible to be empathetic while still being grateful for your own good fortune and praying that better for fortune for another.

  14. Troy

    I’ve recently become a student of your principles and I’m focusing on ways to develop courage as a value. I have begun to look for and embrace opportunities where I can enter the arena.

    One opportunity last week was to call a distant friend who was isolated by the CDC for a potential TB infection. It was a touching exchange. I didn’t really know what to say, but just connected with him…

    Keep up the great work!

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  18. Thanks for this blog, Brene! The other day, a student of mine came back from Kurdistan where he had been nearly captured by ISIS troups. He’d been unable to get back to the Netherlands where he studies, until he found a way out… His story affected me so badly that I felt perhaps I was overreacting, or being ‘too vulnerable’. I felt nearly sick – to know that the ISIS was so close to him, and as a result, close to me (and my family lives in Israel). I like to believe that the world is a good place and bad things don’t happen, (although they have happened to me too in the past), but this student’s story affected me very strongly. Reading your blog, I realize it’s ok and even courageous of me to have leaned into his pain. :)

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  20. Judi Roller

    Good article, But there are virtually always more than two choices/responses to anything.

  21. Linda Mullin

    Thank you for sharing. Beautiful. Courage isn’t the absence of feelings and emotions but often choosing to be vulnerable in sharing our feelings and emotiins, our fears and insecurities. I was reading this morning from unlocking your family patterns the closeness one feels with God is in our ability to share our feelings emotions concerns worries fears etc. Allowing ourselves to be open, honest and vulnerable when we allow ourselves to be honest, open and vulnerable with others we open the opportunity for understanding and connection with others. Courage is often asking for help and allowing others to be part of helping.

  22. How about we just show up? Show up with our compassion, confusion, and total lack of answers to why whatever has happened has happened. Showing up may be the most courageous act of all.

  23. Janna

    It can be very hard to look in the face of suffering. As a nurse, now retired, I’ve seen a lot of suffering and have noticed in myself and others the need to find a way to separate myself from the suffering. One way I did this was to pretend that I was different. I had to close my heart to be able to function. At times I had to be impersonal and shut off the feeling side of myself. Either way is painful. It hurts to feel and it hurts to shut down.

    Maybe there are better ways to separate. Perhaps I could have just told myself, as many times as necessary, “This isn’t mine,” creating a boundary without judgement.

  24. Tamara Aklilu

    Hi Brene,
    I know you have someone vetting your feedback and now your on sabbatical but I hope this feedback gets through to you. I have lived and worked in East Africa for many years. I lived in Ethiopia for 6 years and ran a jewelry production workshop there. I am deeply into the culture. And it is a HIGHLY SHAME based culture. Shame is stifling the overall intellectual/creative environment. As much as I love them (my husband is Ethiopian) I have always wondered why they don’t seem to be as creative, problem solving, critically thinking or articulate as people of other cultures. It dawned on me when you said in an interview, “there can be NO creativity without vulnerability.” and that’s IT. There’s no allowance for vulnerability in their highly shame -based/ legalistic/religious culture. The lack of creativity is affecting their creative intelligence and productivity overall. I’m on a holy mission to help my Ethiopian husband and friends be more vulnerable, transparent and creative. I think CROSS CULTURAL COMPARISON is going to be the KEY to your new creativity- vulnerability research. You can compare Ethiopians to other Africans (Kenyans, Ugandans and Tanzanians for example have less shame and way MORE creativity in their daily lives. Of course they also have more unwed pregnancies and “shameful situations” than pious Ethiopians. ) Its VERY interesting and important work that you are doing. You’ll find the link between shame and lack of creativity in Ethiopia. I promise. I am less familiar with other shame based cultures but you might find the same thing in North Korea, Yemen etc. and women especially in those cultures are most repressed/ not allowed to be themselves. I can’t wait to read your new material. I’m a huge fan.