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co-written by Rushworth M. Kidder and Martha Bracy for the Institute for Global Ethics. This article describes and explores the concept of moral courage which is described by the authors as the ability of a person to speak out or do the right thing when faced with a situation. This in spite of risking humiliation, embarrassment or the loss of social standing. It takes a strong spirit and also the employment of several key values in order to exercise one's moral courage. The article clearly defines, relates, explains and provides examples of what is, and what is not moral courage. It also shows how moral courage can be implemented in different situations, and how it transcends time and space because of it being a universal and intangible quality.
The article begins by presenting a situation where moral courage was not employed, it tells the story of St. Paul's School for Boys located in suburban Baltimore, which in 2001 was involved in a scandal. Prior to the beginning of the Lacrosse season a group of boys, all members of the Lacrosse team gathered to watch a video session. The team members thought they would be seeing practice tape from the previous year. Instead the organizer of the video session, a 16-year-old boy played a video tape of a sexual encounter he had with a 15-year-old girl from another private school, the video had been created without the knowledge of the young girl. As the tape was played not one member of the team spoke out against the viewing of the tape, instead they all watched. When the administration of the school found out about the tape, they were indeed faced with a moral dilemma. This dilemma consisted on whether to discipline the lacrosse team members, and if so to what degree? The dilemma was exacerbated by the fact that that year their lacrosse team was ranked no.1 in the nation and was a popular attraction for booster and alumni donations. The administration took drastic disciplinary measures that resulted in the cancelling of the 2001 boy's lacrosse team's seaon. These were very difficult actions for an administration to make but they wanted to provide an example of moral courage, to make up for the lack of moral courage that the lacrosse players showed by not speaking out against, or trying to stop the viewing of the tape. This example was provide so that the readers can understand that moral courage is not something that is relegated and confined solely to epic tales of heroism. Moral courage is something that can and should be exercised in the mundane and ordinary events in our lives; this is when it is most important to have moral courage because it helps shape our culture. St. Paul School For Boys acted in a manner that showed moral courage, after all they are an institution that prides itself on being ethical and righteous.
In the next section of the article the authors go on in an attempt to describe exactly what they believe moral courage is. They do this because they feel as though there is not enough clarity about its true definition and associations. The authors believe that moral courage is not a complicated concept; they on the contrary believe that it is a relatively simple one. The authors state that moral courage in an intangible quality that is closely related to some of the core moral values "fundamental to a caring and civil society" (p.2). According to the author some of these core moral values include: honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion. This description of coral moral values was obtained from the 23 member Maine Commission on Ethical and Responsible Student Behavior. According to the author this same commission stated in a report that a person that is courageous when facing moral and ethical dilemmas "does the right thing even if it is not popular, refuses to stand by idly while others engage in unethical or harmful behavior"(p.3). As described in this article moral courage is not a value itself, is more like an ability, force or type of strength that allows one to implement and use the core moral values mentioned above. Metaphorically if a house is erected with core moral values as building materials, then moral courage would be the labor force that constructs the structure. The authors point out that moral courage is a universal value that is not relegated to the western world; it is a value that transcends cultures and time periods. The authors also clarify that moral courage is a value that has been known to exist and play a large role in virtually all cultures; they state that it is a value that has not been found to be non-existent in any culture as it is universally appreciated and admired. According to the authors it appears that moral courage is a value that is in demand and that has resurfaced to the acclaim of the 21st century American public which understands the need for this type of courage in the face of moral disintegration and decline in society.
This article finds it necessary to describe the difference between moral and physical courage. Physical courage is described in this article in the following manner "Physical courage is the willingness to face serious risk to life or limb instead of fleeing from it" (p.3). The article presents and explains the historical and long-standing connection between physical courage and heroism. This connection has existed because courage has for a very long time been associated with heroic stories of dragon slayers and war heroes. The definition of physical courage has been shaped and formed from a long trajectory of history, in which it was necessary to solve and react physically to dangerous and threatening situations in order to protect one's self or one's family. The authors explain that due to our contemporary situation which is saturated with technological and political advances that protect us it is no longer essential or necessary to always be physically courageous. The author inserts this brief historical account of physical courage to reassure that in order to be courageous one does not have to be physically imposing, one instead must be spiritually and mentally strong to endure threats and challenges. The authors clearly want to establish a distinction between physical and moral courage so that people can understand that we call all participated in employing moral courage when faced with situations that require us to be righteous and strong.
Moral courage goes on to be described by the authors as "facing mental challenges that could harm one's reputation, emotional well-being, self-esteem and other characteristics" (p.4). The authors go on to state that moral courage is closely associated with and connected to our moral sense and core moral values. That is to say, it relates directly to our sense of right and wrong and having the ability, courage, determination and strength to make the right decision in spite of the dangers and repercussions that may result from our decisions.
During the rest of the article the authors go on to employ a variety of strategies that help illustrated their perceived definition of moral courage. Their definition of moral courage is informed by examples and accounts of people in society risking everything, some being both physically and morally courageous during a particular situation, like the situation of an African-American reporter who endured a beating by a white mob in order to allow black students to enter into a previously racially segregated school for the first time in the 1950's. The authors also present the stories of whistleblowers in the political arena that lost everything because of their attempt to employ and exercise moral courage. One very touching and inspiring example of both moral and physical courage is presented…[continue]
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