Sunday, February 24, 2013

Moral Courage

This post is a sequel to that one, which discusses what constitutes good character, according to "Fascinating Womanhood" author Helen Andelin. In the chapter 16 "A Worthy Character" she discusses several essential virtues, starting with self-control. Another virtue discussed at length in the book is moral courage and that's what I want to talk about today.

The book defines moral courage as "the courage to do what is right, at the risk of unpleasant or even painful consequences" (p218, Bantam Books, 1992). In other words, moral courage means you should always do the right thing, no matter the consequences. In the classic story "Kidnapped" by R.L. Stevenson, an innocent man is framed for murder in a political show trial, and the main character David, who is himself only 18, declares his determination to testify on his behalf, to which his lawyer friend objects pointing out that if David interferes in what essentially is a political intrigue, he may very well be hanged himself. The following dialogue ensues:

'In that case, sir...I would just have to be hanged - would I not?'
'My dear boy,' cries he, 'go in God's name, and do what you think is right...Go and do you duty; and be hanged if you must, like a gentleman. There are worse things in the world than to be hanged.' (p.219, Wordsworth Classics, 1993).

In everyday life having moral courage will likely not demand you risking your life. It can be something as simple as sticking to your convictions in the face of  peer pressure and ridicule. Peer pressure, unfortunately, is not only something which teenagers experience at school. Housewives often suffer an enormous amount of pressure to join the workforce or they have to defend their decision to stay home even to their close relatives, sometimes sisters or mothers. It takes moral courage to go against the current.

While discussing defending your convictions. Mrs Andelin gives us an example of early Christian martyrs and reminds us that "Mankind has fought and died to defend principles they believe in."  (p. 219).

Another way in which we all need moral courage is when we have done something wrong. It takes moral courage to admit your mistake, or may be even a crime. "Sometimes, consequences are serious - humiliation, disgrace, punishment, fines, or even imprisonment." (F.W., p.219). The correct thing to do, however, is to admit your wrong and to "...clear yourself before God and man." (p.219-220).

To sum it up, moral courage means doing something right despite possible negative consequences. I think it was best expressed by Mr Knightley: 'There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty...' Jane Austen "Emma", Penguin Books, 1994, p.112).