There are few instances of good news that I can imagine that do not require courage in one form or another.
Sometimes it is required of the recipient. “You got the job.” “You are going to be a mother/father.” We do not think of these events as requiring courage, but to face them without some measure leaves us with uncertainty and doubt. Sometimes it is required of the deliverer. “There is hope for your situation, but you need to make some changes.” Again, we may not think of this as courage, but its absence can leave us bereft of the encouraging words needed to provoke change.
The world has nearly always been in short supply of moral courage. We are reaping the fruit of the lack of moral courage at nearly every level of society. Parents afraid to place limits on children in the realm of social media is doing massive harm to them. Facebook’s recent admission that it has known of the psychological damage being done to young teens (especially girls) by Instagram is telling.
Corporations, entertainers, movie studios, sports personalities, or even churches are not responsible for the safety and health of our children. Families are. Families with the courage to set limits and have honest discussions with children. What is more disturbing than the lack of courage in some families is the lack of support for those who are courageous enough to step in and try to help.
I will be the first to say that we need some bureaucracy to keep things running smoothly (don’t laugh too loudly) and hold institutions accountable (don’t laugh harder). I would also say that bureaucracy is often where courage goes to die. “The system” overwhelms initiative, constructive criticism, and locks out ideas from those who do not hold the proper self-sustaining “credentials.”
I am thankful for all those courageous ones who do speak and do act. Truth-telling can be harmful to one’s career in some settings. It is especially hard in times and places where everyone has come to believe a narrative that is not based on what is right, but what is expedient and helpful to either keep or gain power.
It is this problem of power that corrupts courage as it corrupts everything it touches. It was courageous for those who first challenged the lack of food safety laws in our country just over a century ago. At first, they weren’t believed, then they were attacked. It took courage for some in the tobacco industry to finally come forward with what they had known and been lying about for years.
Today we cannot tell the difference between courage and political grandstanding. There is also a population that is praised for courage when all around are praising them. True courage speaks when all are condemning. There are any number of issues that we really need to solve, but we cannot seem to tell who is being courageous and who is pandering. Global warming may be a real problem, but we cannot even discuss it without taking sides. Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s recent disgusting and cynical display encouraging “tax the rich” does not help one bit with the real problem of inequality. The fear of being labelled a “…phobe” or a purveyor of hate speech has inserted virulent toxicity into solving the pain of those who suffer from racism or have gender identities outside of male and female heterosexuals.
Courage must be based on something other than what we want for our own benefit. We must at least consider what is best for all of us. As impossible as that may sound, it must be kept in mind. Lifting up others does not imply me being brought down. But if it does, so be it. Loving another does not mean condoning behavior. Listening to opposition does not mean that I must agree, it means I need a better argument.
Our society lacks limit. It lacks agreement on truth. It lacks integrity among some at the highest levels (nothing new there).
In “The Fellowship of the Ring”, Gildor, an elf that rescued a party of eventual heroes, said of a small and fearful hobbit, “Courage is found in unlikely places.” I believe that to be true.
Courage will nearly always be met with opposition. Even if the news is good. Even if the message makes things better. The apostle Paul reminded some of his hearers in I Thessalonians, “We had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile.”
Paul’s words to the Corinthians can also encourage all of us, “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (I Corinthians 16:13-14, RSV)