Six-year-old Ebola survivor Patrick Poopei of Liberia and a Doctors Without Borders staff member.
One of my kids’ favorite books when they were little was Franklin Goes to the Hospital, about an emotionally vulnerable and goodhearted young turtle who needs an operation. He’s embarrassed to admit that he’s scared of the procedure, but finally confesses his fears to the doctor, who tells him that courage is having the strength to do what needs to be done even when it scares you.
I know a lot of adults who could learn from Franklin.
It’s deeply ironic to me that the people who most like to claim that they’re brave individuals living in a brave country are often the quickest to abandon all ideals the second something scares them.
These people mistake bravado and belligerence for courage. Courage is not posturing, shouting, beating up people, or carrying a gun on your hip. Courage is knowingly taking on personal risk in order to preserve the ideals that are worth preserving. It is, to paraphrase the turtle doctor, doing the right thing even though you’re scared.
For a less turtle-y example, let’s look at welcoming refugee families who have nowhere else to go. Maybe there’s the slightest chance that a terrorist could slip in among the small children and desperate parents (I doubt it, though—these people are carefully vetted, and they’re the ones running from the terrorists in the first place). But let’s just say that you’d be raising your personal risk a tiny bit in order to help out thousands of families in dire need. That’s exactly the time to be brave and say, “I’ll take that chance because it’s the right thing to do.” Whereas running around like a chicken, screaming that every refugee is a potential terrorist and shouldn’t be allowed in our country? That’s cowardice, plain and simple.
You know who the bravest people in the whole world are, in my opinion? The ones who work for Doctors Without Borders. These people travel to the most dangerous parts of the world and put their own lives on the line to care for strangers. The risks they take are real and absolutely terrifying. I don’t have the guts to do what they do, but I admire and respect them beyond words, and have nothing but contempt for the people who want to isolate and ostracize them when they return from treating illness. They are heroes and deserve a heroes’ welcome.
“These people travel to the most dangerous parts of the world and put their own lives on the line to care for strangers.”
You know who the biggest cowards in the whole world are, in my opinion? Xenophobes—people who are afraid of anyone who’s different from them. Oh, they may try to express it as strength, swaggering around with big talk about how they’re going to attack anyone who looks or dresses or worships or loves differently from them, but trust me, it’s cowardice that says, “I can only trust someone who looks and thinks and acts exactly like me.” Courage says, “I will greet the new and the different with hope, tolerance and friendship.”
Take the current newscycle example concerning which bathroom transgender people should use. Ignoring for a moment that this is a made-up issue (people have been quietly using the bathrooms of their choice for as long as there have been bathrooms), what’s more cowardly than being afraid of someone who’s peacefully urinating in the stall next to you? I mean, unless there are backsplash or puddle issues, your life isn’t even affected by this. (And if there are backsplash or puddle issues, I think we can all agree that no punishment is adequate.)
Is there an increased risk of a sexual predator putting on a wig and slipping into the women’s bathroom? Almost definitely not—men who follow women into bathrooms do it when no one else is around, so why bother with a wig? And if a SP wants to put on a wig and go into the women’s bathroom, he already can—few bathrooms are policed—but I’ve never heard of it happening.
More importantly, transgender people are all too often the victims of violence and sexual abuse (but rarely, if ever, its perpetrators), so there’s far greater risk in forcing them to use a bathroom where they may not be safe than in letting them use the one in which they’re comfortable. If you care about safety, that’s the thing to focus on.
“Courage is knowingly taking on personal risk in order to preserve the ideals that are worth preserving. It is, to paraphrase the turtle doctor, doing the right thing even though you’re scared.”
Look, if someone commits a crime, that person is a criminal; if someone just wants to have a quiet pee in a safe environment, that person is not a criminal and shouldn’t be turned into one for the sake of someone else’s small-minded comfort.
And finally, remember the thing about occasionally facing a little bit of risk—probably non-existent in this case—to keep American ideals alive? HELLOOOOO. The thing that makes America a great country is its inclusiveness, and that’s what we need to fight for, not against.
Stop being cowards, folks. Stop putting your own comfort and safety ahead of doing the right thing. Have some values. Aspire to be kind, tolerant, helpful, decent, and useful, and don’t let fear destroy any of those aspirations or use risk as an excuse to compromise them.
I’ve totally climbed onto a soapbox now, and I hate being up here. Openly criticizing the behavior of others is way outside my comfort zone—I’m more of a “stay at home and mutter irritably to myself” kind of person. But I feel passionately about all of this and so … I guess this is me being brave. Not Doctors Without Borders brave. But Claire brave. Which is a start.
Anyone want to join me up here? There’s lots of room and I’d love the company. Plus … you know … I can hide behind you if things get scary.