The opposite of fear isn’t bravery. It’s understanding.

In 2015 celebrated travel writer and Public Broadcasting staple Rick Steves keynoted the Annual Conference of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) in San Diego. It turns out the man that I thought was simply a folksy, avuncular travel writer is actually a cuttingly deep thinker in matters of cultural literacy and global citizenship.

After breaking a few bones in my hand applauding his speech, I ran down to the conference bookstore and picked up a copy of his recently updated book Travel as a Political Act. In it, Steves lays out the case for the broadening of American perspective through global travel. He comes close to declaring an imperative.


Chief among his points is the fact that the collective fear we have around “the other,” which in today’s view takes on a very specific geographic/ethnic/religious context, keeps us at a distance from understanding important elements of history, economics, social justice, etc. This is the context that led him in his keynote to utter this rich idea:

The opposite of fear isn’t bravery; it’s understanding.

Staying within the context of teaching and learning, how can we apply this idea to our work, whether it be building relationships with colleagues, breaking ground on a new initiative, or executing the “last mile” of a strategic venture.

How would our perspective change if we considered resistance the product of a lack of understanding rather than cowardice or closed-mindedness?

How would this change our next interaction with a resistant faculty member?