Courage and Bravery in Addition to Safety and Respect

During the first day of the Foundations of Dialogue Education course and many other Global Learning Partners learning events, we ask participants to identify guidelines that will support each other’s learning. The generated lists usually include expectations about cellphone use, side conversations, handling disagreements, and listening to each other. In addition, the core concepts of Safety and Respect are emphasized early and throughout the course as principles that we seek to embed in all our learning tasks, meetings and other gatherings.

Recently, in the context of the facilitation of learning about social inequality, power, oppression, and diversity, researchers and facilitators have pushed back on the guideline of Safety. In their article titled From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces (2013), Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens describe their experiences in a university setting leading social justice workshops for student leaders. They identify that we may have confused safety with comfort. They advocate lessening the emphasis on safety and encouraging bravery and courage when discussing difficult topics like racism, sexism and other forms of social inequality. They espouse that we can do better when we encourage learners to anticipate discomfort and challenge when discussing social inequality and oppression.

To encourage not only safety and respect but also bravery and courage, Arao and Clemens transformed five common agreements that are often made within group guidelines into Brave Agreements.

Common Agreements   Brave Agreements
Agree to disagree  

Controversy with civility – “a value whereby different views are expected and honored with a group commitment to understand the sources of disagreement and to work cooperatively toward common solutions.” Astin & Astin, 1996

Don’t take things personally – also seen as no judgements and “it’s OK to make mistakes”  

Own your intentions and the impact – “… intention and impact matter. … the impact of our actions is not always congruent with our intentions and that positive or neutral intentions do not trump negative impact.” Arao & Clemens, 2013 

Challenge by choice – individuals decide their level of participation  

Encourage reflection on decisions about levels of participation – what keeps us from challenging ourselves? When is the choice determined for us by outside factors? Privilege may enable some folks to opt out of challenge; and oppression may invalidate an opt out choice for someone in a marginalized group.

Respect – ask what respect looks like  

Explore various cultural understandings of what respect means for different groups of people to avoid assumptions and misunderstandings within the group.

No attacking  

Challenges and lively discourse are not the same as attacks. 

Arao and Clemens conclude their article with the following thoughts:

We have found that reframing ground rules to establish brave space is an asset to us in our work as social justice facilitators. It has helped us to better prepare participants to interact authentically with one another in challenging dialogues. Moreover, as compared to the idea of safe space, brave space is more congruent with our understanding of power, privilege, and oppression, and the challenges inherent in dialogue about issues in socioculturally diverse groups.

So, for practitioners of Dialogue Education and a learning-centered approach, creating safe space for learning also invites us to step into a space of bravery and courage. When we show up with courage, authenticity, wholeheartedness and our best intentions to learn and grow, we will begin to know and understand how to mend some of the broken places in our society. Discomfort, honesty and accountability are part of this work; along with joy, satisfaction and resolution.


How has this notion of “brave spaces” expanded your thinking about safety and respect in learning events?

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Andrea Van Liew is a GLP Partner and Chair of the GLP Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team. Here are other blogs written by Andrea.

Below are other GLP blog posts written on Safety and Respect you may find interesting:

  1. The Art of Facilitation: A look at safety
  2. Safety in the Classroom
  3. Creating Trauma-Informed Spaces that Inform Learning
  4. Tips for Entering and Staying in Tough Dialogue