There’s nothing more infuriating to me than a fence-sitter.
You know, someone who prefers to say nothing or do nothing when it comes to having an opinion about things that matter. Someone who doesn’t speak up for what is right and what is wrong.
On the other hand, give me someone who has the guts to stand up for injustice, and I’ll shake their hand. They have my utmost respect. Whether it be a personal injustice or world injustice. To me this is moral courage.
Having moral courage these days isn’t exactly cool.
We’ve become so programmed to be tolerant of everything. So much so that the pendulum has swung in a very bland and conservative direction. Not just politically, but personally and socially. Where we dare not say anything about what matters for fear of offending someone.
It’s also not cool because it’s deep and serious territory. So much easier to keep things light and superficial. And lightness has a place, it’s just that when things DO matter, there seems to be a quickness to shirk off any reason to be involved. “Too hard”. Or “It doesn’t concern me”. Or “It’s their problem”.
One iconic figure in history comes to mind as the personifcation of moral courage: Martin Luther King, Jnr. Known for leading the African-American civil rights movement taking a stand against racial segretation in the 60’s. Also remembered for his eloquent speeches about humanity, courage and freedom.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent on the things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jnr.
Not all of us will be as loud or influentual as MLK. He took his convictions to a grand scale. But I think we can learn a great deal about how he used his voice. I think we can learn to use our voice to stand up for things that matter in our own lives.
And I think it starts somewhere much smaller than the Rally or the March or the Pulpit. It begins with feeling a sense of empathy for others. And empathy is nurtured in the depths of our feeble beating hearts. That is where moral courage is born. When we begin to feel for other people our moral courage starts pulsating out into everyday life, out into the ordinary and the mundane.
There’s all sorts of ways to step up…
- Standing up against a bully.
- Standing up for a friend who is being mistreated.
- Calling people on their inconsiderate behaviour.
- Reporting abuse within systems and organisations.
In my life I have experienced being bullied. I have also experienced being mistreated by people and employers. No, I did not give people permission to do these things. Stuff just happens. And I dealt with it and fought. But besides the pain of what I was experiencing, the worst feeling of all was watching people in my life sitting on the fence. My grief was a great big tangible throbbing thing. And they walked past me.
Once I got through the situations and got some distance, I realised that the fence-sitting said more about the fence-sitters then it did about me. I also realised that people act (or don’t act) out of their own limitations. They may never have been taught empathy. They may never have been given a moral compass to begin with.
Either way, I think life is too short to hang around fence-sitters. I don’t want to be a person that walks past someone who has been mistreated. I don’t want to be silent about things that matter. I don’t want injustices to escape my watchfulness.
I want to have a backbone. I want to have a compass.
I want be a gutsy one.
“The enemies you make by taking a decided stand generally have more respect for you than the friends you make by sitting on the fence”. ~ Henry Kissinger
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. ~ Martin Luther King, Jnr.