By David Hegg
Long before Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion walked the yellow brick road, society has understood the absolute necessity of courage.
This essential virtue speaks to the willingness to stand firm against opposition, and even advance in the name of all that is good and right. Courage is that strength of character that fights compromise while never underestimating the necessity of compassion. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the overwhelming sense of right that channels fear into positive action, toward the necessary goal. And, we must realize that, ultimately, courage is the fruit of a radical commitment to all that is right and good, and especially, to truth.
And yet, even the most courageous of us can weaken in the face of the consequences of courageous action. Often, we believe that courageous action, taken in defense of the truth, may so damage relationship that the best plan is just to “go along to get along.” But all too often, failure to act courageously exacerbates the underlying problem, and takes us down a path where good options become fewer and fewer.
We see this in so many areas of life. The failure to take courageous action politically can allow a state or nation to meander deeper and deeper into chaos and debt that there no longer appear to be any workable solutions. Hesitancy in acting courageously in parenting when our children are young may very well foster a situation in their teen years where we feel absolutely powerless to either protect or persuade them. And certainly in business, those unwilling to act courageously to bring needed change will find themselves falling further and further behind in market share and financial viability.
So, if courageous action at the right time is so important in life, why is it that we often decide to deny, postpone, or conveniently forget to deal with those challenges that we all know demand our immediate and courageous attention?
There are many answers to that question, but chief among them is our preference to put personal, short-term well-being above long-term success when such long-term thinking will demand immediate pain.
Simply put, we too often live for today hoping that tomorrow will somehow turn out right. We are shortsighted and have taught ourselves to believe that we can choose the easy path today and find that it somehow leads to a better tomorrow. The problem is that we are wrong. Even more, most likely the reason we need to take courageous, even painful action today is because we took the easy path yesterday.
Of course, increasingly we are a society that pursues the easy, convenient, and selfish choice because we really don’t know which paths to pursue in the first place. In many arenas we have lost our moral and spiritual compass. It is increasingly hard to find someone who knows the value of values, the protection of morality, or the benefit of charting a life course guided by integrity, generosity, morality, service to mankind and a righteous standing before Almighty God. Without an overriding worldview that undergirds a noble purpose in life, it will be impossible to gain the convictions of right and wrong from which a determined courage can arise.
Unless we know what kind of children we want to raise, we will not act to correct their course until it is too late. Unless we know what kind of state and nation we want to be, we’ll opt for daily comfort and convenience. And unless we know what kind of people we want to be and come to understand that building character demands the hard work of daily introspection and focus on the nobility of values, we will never be courageous in opposing destructive ideas and actions. We will roll over in the face of societal decay and compromise as long as they bring with them a feeling of personal comfort, while stroking our sense of independence and self-esteem.
As long as the individual is seen as more important than the community, pleasure as sovereign and pain as the enemy, there will be no incentive to become a courageous people. And that will be tragic.
America’s history is that of courageous individuals determining that the building of a noble, virtuous society was worth the pain of personal sacrifice. We still see that in certain people and places, but not as much as we need. It is time to take stock in the welfare of our society, to be courageous is doing the right thing despite the pain it may bring.
It is time for courage, so that our children will have some good options when it comes time for them to act.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.