By David Hegg
The third of the foundational Greek virtues, following Prudence and Justice, is Fortitude. Once again, this is not a word we hear often these days, and we are worse off for it. Fortitude is the virtue of forbearance when circumstances are burdensome, strength when the going is hard, and perseverance when opposition is heavily stacked against us. Fortitude is what the coach is calling for when he exclaims, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
Fortitude is the virtue by which we remain undaunted in the face of obstacles that seem too large to overcome. It is often defined as the courage to press on when you are in the right regardless of the consequences.
Aristotle defined fortitude as that determination to continue on the right course and stick to it because it is the noble thing to do and would be a disgraceful thing not to do. Yet, fortitude is often ridiculed in our day. I am reminded of the little boy who found hundreds of starfish washed up on the shore. Knowing they would die before the tide found them again, he began picking them up, one by one, and throwing them back into the ocean.
An old man walking by tried to help the boy see the hopelessness of his venture and shouted, “You’ll never save them all, son!” The lad, undaunted by the old man’s pessimism, stooped down, grabbed a starfish, and flung it into the water. “Maybe … but I saved that one!”
The young boy showed fortitude. Doing the right thing even when it is the hard thing simply because it is the noble thing, and not to do so would be a disgraceful thing.
In some places, fortitude is known as grit. It is the stuff of those who simply will not be vanquished, and will struggle onward despite the odds if their purpose is wise and just.
It is important to realize none of these virtues exist in a solitary sense. In fact, they are interdependent. It is of no value to have fortitude without prudence as that would result in courage to pursue a course that was not wise or beneficial. And fortitude in a cause that is not just is at best misguided and, at worst, destructive, which is certainly not prudent. Prudence, Justice, and Fortitude must ride together or none of them can stand.
So, consider the convergence of prudence, justice, and fortitude in relation to something as common as debt. To make it interesting, consider the current consideration on the part of some of our governmental leaders to use their power to forgive the student loans provided by the government for college education.
First, we could ask, it this prudent? Is it the wisest course of action to use tax money to forgive loans to certain citizens when inflation and the national debt are in the danger zone? We might also suggest that those who took out the loans theoretically considered it prudent to borrow the money, and did so understanding that repayment was expected.
Second, we could ask if it is just to take money from those who do not owe the debt, without their consent, in order to pay off the loans of others. Further, it would seem just to consider that those whose money is now paying off the debt should gain some of the benefit of what was originally purchased. Perhaps the degrees earned could now be conferred on those whose money actually will have paid for them.
Of course, this is sheer silliness, but then again, so is the perversion of both prudence and justice should the loan forgiveness plan be implemented.
Lastly, what of fortitude? It would seem those with the virtue of fortitude would stand up and say, “I will pay my own debts, thank you! What kind of nobility is it to take a loan and then happily agree to have the government use other people’s money to pay it back? Why, that would be disgraceful, and show a cowardly lack of fortitude!”
My point is simple. The erosion of our society is not due to a lack of governmental programs funded by inflationary spending (we’ve had more than enough of those!) but to an overall erosion of basic virtue in us as a nation.
Too often we are not prudent, and not just. And we have largely stopped appreciating fortitude. We’d rather be victims. We’d rather gain power purely on the basis of our identity. We’d rather define justice in ways that play to our selfishness-driven ideology.
On the other hand, virtue has the good of the community in mind. We want to be good people to be a good family, a good village, a good society.
So let us chart a better course. Let us reinvigorate the beauty of virtue. Let us strive to be morally prudent, uncompromisingly just without bias, and more than ever fortified in our fortitude so that right will always overcome evil with good. Prudence, justice and fortitude are more than words. They are the very stuff of noble living.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.