“Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for – because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.” ~ Peter Marshall
It’s been said that courage is the point at which all other character traits are tested.
It’s also the point at which our private morality is pushed into the public sphere. It can be difficult to stand up for what’s right when it would be so much easier to shrink to the background of the moment.
Moral courage is the difference between those who stand and those who don’t.
What Would You Do?
What would you do if you saw a father humiliating his child in public? What would you say? Would you “butt in” where you weren’t invited? Or would you silently bite your tongue and turn away?
What would you do if you saw a teenager trying to steal from a store? Would you intervene? Would you alert someone? Or would you look the other way?
What if you saw someone beating his girlfriend in a parked car in front of your home? (this one actually happened) Would it move you to action? Would you defend her? Would you call the police? Or would you shake your head and pull the blinds?
What would you do if your friends started teasing someone for being “fat” or “ugly” or “handicapped”? Would you be willing to risk losing friends for doing what’s right?
Most of us will have opportunities like these to decide whether we will stand tall in the moment or sit on the sidelines – silent, passive, hoping someone bigger, stronger, better will step in for us to address the wrong.
Indeed, each moral dilemma begs a set of questions, urging us to decide: Do I get involved? Do I say something? Should I physically intervene? At what cost to me and family if I do? At what cost to society and to who I most fundamentally am at my core if I don’t?
These are not easy questions. But they are defining.
Society Needs You
Remember, a neighborhood is nothing more than the sum of its individual members. A society or culture is the organic outpouring of the way its citizens live and interact with each other.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
We don’t have to look very far to recognize the need to stand and be counted as a moral agent for good in a society that seems increasingly to have lost its way.
I’ve seen people push others around while the crowd looks on with indignant faces and immobile bodies. They say nothing. They do nothing. And another inconsiderate jerk gets taught yet again that people will let jerks get away with being jerks.
In an era of guns and bombs and gangs and wars, we’re understandably timid about interjecting ourselves into moral conflicts between people we know, much more so for people we don’t know.
But is the social price we pay too great for the personal safety we retain?
Edmund Burke said it most memorably when he said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” I would add that it’s easy for good men to do nothing when they sink their heads into the sands of blissful ignorance. You can’t take action against what you don’t know is happening, after all.
I recently saw a show called WWYD (What Would You Do) hosted by John Quinones on ABC. It’s an ethical dilemma series where undercover cameras are secretly planted at a public location and actors are hired to act out some morally objectionable scenario in public to see how bystanders respond.
The most interesting (and alarming) thing to me is that although some stand and speak out, most don’t. They felt uncomfortable, some even outraged, they confided in Quinones afterwards, but didn’t want to get involved or didn’t feel it was any of their business in the moment.
Is Public Behavior Private?
Self-respect and self-dignity should push us past the point of inertia. But in case you believe public behavior is not public business, here’s a clarifying question for you to consider: If your own child was being bullied (or worse), would you want others to stand and be counted, or stay out of it and mind their own business?
You see, there is no virtue in hoping others will stand up and help our own while we stay seated for theirs.
The test of one’s moral convictions is not in the safety of a questionnaire or in the sterile environment of a trial study, but in the field, in real life, when and where it counts. That’s where true moral courage is necessary. And it’s in those moments that standing up for what’s right can make a world of difference.
It’s Time to Stand!
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~ Nelson Mandela
Such people who take a public stand for what’s right in such circumstances become the heroes we honor and celebrate.
But why? Why do we pay homage to those who take public stands against evil, who do what’s right in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, who take their values and character to heart and into the streets to change things? Why do we hold people like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and others up as worthy of emulation?
I believe it’s because something deep inside of us yearns for the noble and the good. We instinctively recognize the praise-worthiness of moral courage selflessly acted on behalf of another. We aspire to be like them even if our moral courage has not been exercised enough to compel us to take that stand. Regardless, we still recognize the rightness of it when others do.
“It is any day better to stand erect with a broken and bandaged head then to crawl on one’s belly, in order to be able to save one’s head.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
We’ve all heard stories of rape victims being attacked in hallways where everyone behind closed doors heard the screams for help, but were too scared or indifferent to get involved.
Well, that sort of self-protective moral apathy to another human being is not the world I’m willing to help create, even if it means putting my life at risk to stand up and be counted at the most critical moment.
How about you?
No-Brainer Disclaimer: Sometimes standing to be counted means getting help from others or from the authorities. So be wise, but stand up. Also, I’m also not referring to vigilantism.
A Few Clarifying Questions:
• If everyone was the kind of employer or employee you are, how successful would the business be? How enjoyable would it be work there? How much work would get done? What would the corporate culture be like? How long would the business last?
• If everyone treated their spouse like you treat yours, how happy would marriage be? What would happen to the already-huge divorce rate? How would children be affected?
• If everyone treated their kids like you treat your kids, what would the world’s youth grow up to be like? How happy would childhood be? How confident and kind and free of fears would they be?
• If everyone lived life the same exact way you do, what would the world be like? What would people spend their time and money on? What kind of culture would we live in?
Standing for something can be hard when our convictions and sense of right is challenged in the real world where there are bad guys and people do some pretty shocking things. But imagine a world where no one stood up to those who inflicted pain. Imagine a world in which all people minded their own business, never stepping up to help someone being pushed around.
Now imagine a world where everyone stood up to be counted as their neighbor’s brother and sister, where people looked out for each other, had each others’ backs, whose love for you and me compelled them to risk their own security to enhance yours and mine.
Which society would you want to live in? Which one would you want to raise your kids?
Which one will you help create?
Stand and be Counted …
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Photo Credit: efraim_cenoura