Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Cardinal Virtues: What is Courage?

In 1936 a motivated, 21-year old black man walked onto the only residential center where blacks could receive a higher education in his home country. Earning a degree at the University College of Fort Hare meant living among the African elite, and for this young man, it meant supporting his widowed mother and sisters. It also held the dream of one day realizing national rights for justice. 

Just a year later, the blossoming sophomore was elected to represent the student body. However, many students charged the administration with particular injustices in campus life and had boycotted the mandatory election. Thus, this young man saw the boycotted election—his election—as unjust.

While it would have given him both favor with administration and a position of influence, he declined the elected position. Twice.

Wanting to reassert authority over the growing student rebellion, the university headmaster gave this young man an ultimatum: accept the elected position or be expelled from Fort Hare.

That day, the young Nelson Mandela packed his bags and walked out the door of the only place which could give him a real future in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela lived a courageous life. Time and time again, the eventual President would continue choosing to adhere to the truth, no matter the suffering he would endure. Mandela was expelled from school, and later in life, imprisoned, persecuted and alienated.

Eventually, however, he was elected President, he became one of the most influential men for the cause of justice, and, in our age, and he is among the strongest examples of courage of our time.

The philosopher Aristotle calls courage a desirable quality that in which it’s “vice of shortage is cowardice and its vice of excess is recklessness.”

We see courage all the time: in a mother who chooses to keep her child born unexpectedly to her as a teenager or her partner to stay by her side; in a child who doesn’t join his friends in making fun of another kid on the playground in fourth grade; in the saintly people of our time and before that suffer painfully for the sake of something greater.

Courage has to do with heart, having the strength of heart to do what is right in the face of what is so difficult.

Next week, we will look at what four aspects make up courage and talk about how to grow in courage in our daily life.

Published in the South Gibson Star Times