Courage is revealed in spontaneous, momentary decisions.
I taught my first PhD course last week, Character and Ethics. As part of the course, we traveled to Washington D.C. We visited the Holocaust Museum. My hope was that this tactile experience would emotionally form the students regarding the topic we were studying. I was deeply moved. It was a powerful experience to chronicle the results of misguided character and distorted ethics. In addition to the political regime, we walked through an exhibit on complicity which detailed the intentional accommodation and proactive involvement by the German people to the atrocities of World War II. This side of history was somewhat known to me; however, not to the extent that unfolded during that hour walking past photo after photo. In such moments, I deeply wish we did not have to learn from history – humankind would have been better without the Holocaust.
In the midst of these horrific pictures, there were profound flares of goodness and courage. A large photo highlighted a Catholic priest who advocated in behalf of a sizable group of Jews gathered against a wall facing a firing squad. Risking his own life, he spoke up to the SS Officers asking that they spare their lives as they did nothing wrong. Dozens of individuals were rescued. Protestant pastors, facing certain imprisonment, spoke out against the atrocities unfolding in Germany. They took a stand against evil regardless of the potential consequences. Ordinary citizens hid Jews while others smuggled them to safety.
Courage shined in those spontaneous, momentary decisions in the face of real and fatal consequences.
As leaders, courage is essential. In some respects, it can be prepared for. Character is formed throughout one’s life. Deep convictions regarding truth and justice are cultivated through reflection, prayer, and Scripture. Embracing the imago deo allows us to see others as fellow human beings in need of advocacy. Sacrifice involves standing on eternal principals, knowing that speaking up or challenging sin is the right thing to do. However, courage is also not something one can fully prepare for. In those moments when emotions are swirling, convictions are tested, self-preservation or complacency dominate, a person needs to take stock of what is required in that moment. I observed stories of such courage at the Holocaust Museum.
Granted, most of us have not faced the type of courage required by those facing the Holocaust. Yet, we do face situations on a regular basis where it is required. A disenfranchised person is mistreated thus requiring an advocate – a voice for the voiceless. Sin needs to be confronted. Whereas it is easier to stay on the sidelines, courage necessitates leaders stand up for holiness. An employee or employer becomes reckless eroding the institutional climate. In these moments, it is essential that someone speaks up.
Courage is a defining quality of leaders. More so, it is a defining quality of believers as we know the eternal standards which frame acts of courage. Truth, justice, and holiness are determined by God. Thus, believers being the incarnational embodiment of Christ should reflect and promote these qualities, and even more for leaders.