I do not think it means what you think it means, pt 1

What is brave?

Let’s talk about this word “brave.” It gets used a lot, and very rarely in the correct context.

From Webster: Bold; courageous; daring; intrepid; – opposed to cowardly; as, a brave man; a brave act.

From Dictionary.com: Possessing or exhibiting courage or courageous endurance.

From Oxford Dictionaries: People who are ready to face and endure danger or pain.

To me, brave is the firefighter who runs into a burning building to save lives. Or the person who faces down a crazed gunman to allow innocents to escape. Brave is the woman who finally leaves her abusive husband. Brave is the child who tell someone that he was molested.

Brave is not just leaving your house. (Unless you suffer from agoraphobia; for my purposes, I’m assuming you don’t.)


“Brave” is a term that is attached over-often to people with disabilities. “You’re so brave,” they say when we don’t kill ourselves rather than be seen in public. “You’re so brave!” they enthuse when we do anything that puts us in the public eye (or even just in front of our friends and neighbors) rather than blending into the background.

“You are so brave!” they exclaim as we go about our daily lives without expecting any special recognition.

We use the word “brave” to encourage kids through unpleasant experiences without breakdowns. Being brave is the ultimate goal for a kid who admits fear in the face of a painful situation. Like a shot.

Being brave has come to mean having a stiff upper lip. It’s not really bravery; it’s stoicism.

What brought this on?

If you follow me on Instagram, you have seen that I regularly post images with tags related to using a wheelchair, or having a disability, or whatever. As such, I came across this profile:

Disabled fashion on instagram.Obviously, I added the highlight around the usage of brave. Like, how is this brave? If you use a wheelchair, or are visually impaired, or deal with any other disability, is it brave to be a fashionista? Is it brave to admit that you like clothes if you don’t look exactly like the models? Is it brave to let people take your picture showing your wheelchair/mobility device/disability? Is it brave to admit that you use a chair or device or what-have-you as opposed to doing your best to obfuscate that fact?

Wait, isn’t being “brave” a compliment?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? And it would be if being called brave had anything to do with an actual act of bravery. If someone called me “brave” simply because I use a wheelchair, I would consider it an insult. Because what is really being said is that, in my particular “state”, it’s amazing I would consider inflicting myself upon the world.

Maybe that’s the most pessimistic way to view a so-called compliment, but when I am called brave for performing the mundane activities of everyday life, it diminishes me. And it diminishes those to whom the term “brave” actually applies. Those people who would jump in front of a crazed madman or run back into a fire or leave their abusive situations.

Stop throwing around the word “brave” like it doesn’t mean anything. Stop lessening the meaning of a word that is supposed to be important. And stop inflating the importance of people with disabilities being out in the world. We’re not unicorns, ya know. (Well, some of us are, but not because of that.) The more we are referred to as “brave” for living our lives, the less acceptable it is for us to be productive members of society. That may not make sense, but trust me, I know what I’m saying. If everything we do is brave, then less and less will be expected of us. Our abilities will not just be overlooked, but actively ignored, because it’s so brave for us to just get out of bed in the morning, nothing more can possibly be within our capabilities.

Save “brave” for those who actually deserve it, and let people like me live our lives in such a way that nothing ordinary is surprising, and everything extraordinary is celebrated.

About Laura

Artist, writer, designer and nerdy creative based in Charlotte, NC. Loves Harry Potter, Firefly, Doctor Who, country music, and Nathan Fillion. Wheelchair-user, due to osteogenesis imperfecta aka brittle bone disease.