“I did not get on the bus to get arrested.  I got on the bus to go home.” – Rosa Parks

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was seated on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. When the driver ordered her to give up her seat so a white passenger could take it, she refused. This simple act ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which, in turn triggered a series of events that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Some things are difficult, that is, they require much skill to accomplish or understand. Other things are hard because they require a great deal of endurance or physical or mental effort. Courage is hard. Courage involves danger. No danger, no courage.

John Wayne said that courage is “being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” General William T. Sherman of the U.S. Civil War said courge is “a perfect sensibility of the measure of danger, and a mental willingness to endure it.” Courage is also defined as “that firmness of spirit which meets danger without fear.”  According to Rushworth Kidder, moral courage involves a commitment to moral principles, an awareness of the danger involved in supporting those principles, and a willing endurance of those dangers.

Moral courage involves choosing the hard right over the easy wrong.

Moral courage (the hard right over the easy wrong) doesn’t always produce an immediate benefit (keep a seat in 1955 and see landmark legislation almost a decade later). I recently had the privilege of speaking with several groups of university students in business college. The conversations worked their way around to corporate values (some had been studying business ethics). Most of them saw corporate values as a public relations issue involving “looking good” or “impressing customers” more so than principles or standards of behavior undergirded by judgment of what’s important in life and business (like building and maintianing the trust of customers and employees, for example).

I gave them an example of a real company that had the opportunity to make a $28,000,000 gross profit on a single transaction simply by “bending” one of their corporate values about how they mark up their products. The students were asked whether the company should keep their standard markup rate or go for the $28,000,000 in sure margins. Note: Before you think about the answer you would give, where’s the danger?

Is there potential danger in walking away from $28,000,000 that would largely fall to the bottom line? What if the shareholders find out?  The students believed, for the most part, that the company should take the profit opportunity. “The customers will never know the difference.” “Hey, it’s $28,000,000! Next topic!” Those students who took the opposing view experienced a little “danger” in the classroom: a loss of standing by being in the “soft” minority. They just “didn’t get it” about making money.

I asked the students if they were employees of this company would it matter which way the deal went? Initially, the votes didn’t change. Slowly, they began to realize that a breach of trust in one area of the company would tear at the fabric of trust throughout the whole organization. “If they could do that, what else could they do?” “Well, they’ve proven that they can’t be trusted when it comes to money. Perhaps we couldn’t trust them on other things.”

Most rivers start with drops of water. Our individual decisions matter. General Andrew Jackson said, “One man with courage makes a majority.” Someone has to be that one.

Footnote: The company in question held true to its values. They passed on the quick $28,000,000. The strength of their good name has more than made up that amount.

In Other Words…

“Courage has a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games. It is a cold choice between two alternatives, the fixed resolve not to quit; an act of renunciation which must be made not once but many times.” – Charles McMoran Wilson

“One of the great meaningless phrases of our times is: ‘I take full responsibility.’ This does not mean that you are prepared to pay the consequences for what you have done. On the contrary, this statement is usually offered instead of taking the consequences.” – Thomas Sowell

“Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always, even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?” – William J. Bennett – in a lecture to the United States Naval Academy November 24, 1997

“It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.” – H. L. Mencken

“One of the common failings among honorable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonorable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them.” – Thomas Sowell

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by their character.” – Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963

In The Word…

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”  -Titus 2:7-8

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

In Linked Words…

Oskar Schindler and moral courage