I was interested to see that Janet Yellen was recently confirmed as chair of the Federal Reserve in the USA. I once chaired a meeting she addressed in London. I am not sure why I was invited to chair it. I suspect it was not because of my renowned expertise in international finance. I remember it especially because when I invited questions the young city types in the audience seemed reticent about speaking, so I asked some questions that I regarded as fairly unexceptional and benign. I received thoughtful answers. It was only when I was leaving that some of those attending came up to me to say things along the lines of ‘I am so glad you asked that’, ‘you were brave asking that’.
Longstanding readers may recall that I have reported being at other meetings when I have had a similar experience. I seem to have a knack of asking things that I regard as unexceptional, only for others to think I am being daring. I was also recently with the CEO of a leading company when we bumped into a colleague in the Lords who was an old friend of the CEO. The colleague immediately began to say kind things about me, including ‘he was so brave, he led the revolt in the Lords on….’. The background noise was such that I didn’t catch what it was I had led the revolt on that merited the description.
What do I draw from these experiences? The fact that I sometimes see things slightly different from others is something of which I have long been aware. The more reflective consideration is what it means to be brave. My view is that none of these experiences merit that description in the slightest. In my view it is not brave unless one recognises one is doing something dangerous. There’s nothing dangerous about me raising questions, however iconoclastic or idiosyncratic, in meetings. The reaction doesn’t concern me in the slightest. There’s also nothing especially brave about leading a revolt or speaking out in the Lords. I remember when I spoke in 2000 in support of lowering the age of consent I had peers coming up the next day to congratulate me and, yes, say how brave I was. I just took the view I had something to say.
People who are brave are those who face situations that they know or believe to be dangerous. I don’t recall doing anything dangerous – well, except getting on planes…