The Virtue of Moral Courage: Standing Up for Our Legacy



With social media and televised news consistently buzzing and sensationalizing events on a daily basis; I am emotionally overwhelmed and cognitively bombarded.  The stories and photos of critical current events are publicized over and over again. However, there are particular stories that sustained my attention, such as the passionate fights for marriage equality; the horrors of the Boston bombings, our President’s public display of disappointment with the failure of new gun laws; the NBA athlete’s proclamation of his sexuality; and the Arizona School for the Deaf students’ plea for a voice.

I was particularly drawn to the heroes of these events. What makes a person run towards the victims of explosions without a hesitation? What motivates a person taking a stand publicly about his private life as a gay celebrity athlete?  Why would the President take a stand on a controversial issue that will divide people?  What about the students’ public protest against the superintendent and the board?  The common theme is the heroes taking a stand knowing there were great risks of adverse consequences.  This is courage.  This kind of courage is quite different from how we traditionally refer to it.  Unfortunately, this type of courage is seldom seen these days.  My assumption is that for many it is much safer to be just a bystander or blend in with what the majority believes. Whether it is right or wrong.

Moral Courage

Moral courage is the courage to take action based on moral reasons, despite the risk of adverse consequences. Courage is required to take action when one has doubts or fears about the consequences. Moral courage is when you stand up for something that is right; when others want you to sit down.  It is doing the “right thing,” morally and ethically. Moral courage is rare and considered risky.  It is often considered suicidal for political leaders.  It also requires a radical “change” in what the majority is accustomed in believing or doing.  In our society we face the risk of public criticism, ridicule and simple apathy when seeking support for change.  With social media, anyone can participate and contribute opinions. But we are also creatures of habits and will favor conformity with the majority.  Social media, video, television and radio have and will continue to harness massive amounts of power and influence over peoples’ lives.  The sensationalism and the emotional lures of conformity can sway peoples’ decisions between the fact and fiction.  This often contributes or determines the landscape of the Americans’ culture, norms and expectations.  We can go either way… positively or negatively. This is indeed very scary for me.

Pictures don’t lie.  Facts are facts.  People are people.  Every single human being matters.  Moral courage comes from people with values, hopes and clear ethics within the framework of equality and human rights.  I am inspired when one takes a stand not just for himself, but also for others like him.  Recently, I took the time to re-read Martin Luther King’s poignant letter from the Birmingham Jail and his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech.  I also discovered Robert F. Kennedy’s notable speech at the University of Capetown.  The iconic leaders, both, have the same common theme… they personify the virtue of “moral courage.”  Taking great risks to speak from their hearts, conscience, facts, and courage; their legacy continues to live on in their examples.

The Right to Be

Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy believed all human beings are created equal and have a right to proclaim a right to be.  I am inspired with hope.  Though we also have a responsibility to preserve, to remind and to continue the support of the virtue of moral courage for our generation and generations to come. When the opportunity arises, I hope you will dig deep in your soul and find your courage to stand up for what is right.  It is an important commitment.

I have a dream.  I hope that I will have instilled this virtue of moral courage in my sons and they will in turn instill this virtue with their children.  The first step in achieving the act of instilling the virtue of moral courage is to live as an example and model doing what is right. This will be the most important legacy I leave behind for my family, friends and communities as well as for my future generations.

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