Years after becoming a reporter, I began to question my role in the profession called journalism. Why was I doing it? Was it still for the greater purpose of pursuing the truth and informing the public, or was it now about something else? One thing was for sure: I didn’t feel as much passion as I once had for the craft.
So I asked myself what I most loved about it. All of the stories I had done on oil ministers and presidents, on elections and crime, on sports and entertainment; I enjoyed them very much, but they weren’t what I was most passionate about. Instead, a story I had done on the Venezuelan youth orchestra came to mind. I recalled teenagers who had drawn on classical music to escape lives of drugs and violence. Then I thought of a young woman I met in a poor Colombian village who was determined to become a successful doctor instead of succumbing to the guerilla violence all around her.
As more and more stories like this came to mind, I realized what they had in common: they were all stories about courageous people. I got goose bumps when I thought of those who had faced adversity and done something extraordinary. I was inspired; and I knew if I was, others must have been too. So what if I could use journalism as a way to inspire? What if it could do more than informing, praising or criticizing?
So I decided I would purposefully seek these stories out and help make bravery its own genre. I called it Bravery Tapes. I wanted to find the highest forms of bravery. My new space wouldn’t be for the run-of-the-mill animal rescue story that a local TV station might run to fill its quota of uplifting news. Nor would it be for people who acted through anger. I wanted to find people who were noble.
I started with Mexico. It seemed an ideal place because I had covered the country and knew there were many stories of courage related to the drug violence. I had also written a song about children who faced the violence, so it made sense to go find material in this vein. I interviewed a teenager who was a former Zeta, a powerful drug cartel, and another who denounced his brother’s kidnappers in public, a dangerous move in Mexico. And then I spent time with a group of school children who experienced a drug-related shootout with automatic weapons outside their classroom window. All of this became "Guns Down", the first Bravery Tape.
The series was off and running. Next, I profiled Honduran women with HIV who stood up to heavy discrimination, a gay couple in Los Angeles at the crossroads of battles over same-sex marriage and immigration reform, and a homeless singer-songwriter seeking for a better life. Then there was a heroic survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, a UPS driver who saved a woman after a car accident, and a man who rebounded from unfathomable family tragedy to help others. Most recently, I spent time with convicted felons inside a state prison who were turning their lives around by learning to become professional divers.
While these subjects’ courage is immediately apparent, I’ve come to realize as I produce these Tapes that bravery is actually all around us in everyday life. It’s in our schools, in our offices, on our roads. It’s the adolescent scared of going in for his first kiss, the kid who stands up to the bully at school, or the husband who stays loyal to his wife despite temptation. It’s really about standing up for yourself and what you believe in during those moments when the benefits of caving in are so great. It’s doing what you think is right. I know I have much further to go to be able to consistently behave like this in my own life. It’s what I want for myself, and it’s what I want for all of humanity.
Jens Erik Gould is a regular contributor to Time Magazine and the creator and host of Bravery Tapes. Previously Jens was a staff correspondent in Mexico City for Bloomberg News and a regular contributor to The New York Times from Venezuela.