Moral Courage

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2004-12-13
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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Why did a group of teenagers watch a friend die instead of putting their own reputations at risk? Why did a top White House official decide to come clean and accept a prison sentence during Watergate? Why did a finance executive turn down millions out of respect for her employer? Why are some willing to risk their futures to uphold principles? What gives us the strength to stand up for what we believe? As these questions suggest, the topic of moral courage is front and center in today's culture. Enron, Arthur Andersen, the U.S. Olympic Committee, abusive priests, cheating students, domestic violence -- all these remind us that taking ethical stands should be a higher priority in our culture. Why, when people discern wrongdoing, are they sometimes unready, unable, or unwilling to act? In a book rich with examples, Rushworth Kidder reveals that moral courage is the bridge between talking ethics and doing ethics. Defining it as a readiness to endure danger for the sake of principle, he explains that the courage to act is found at the intersection of three elements: action based on core values, awareness of the risks, and a willingness to endure necessary hardship. By exploring how moral courage spurs us to strive for core values, he demonstrates the benefits of ethical action to the individual and to society -- and the severe consequences that can result from remaining morally dormant. Moral Courage puts indispensable concepts and tools into our hands, equipping us to respond to the increasingly complicated moral challenges we face at work, at home, and in our communities. It enables us to make clear, confident decisions by exploring some litmus-test questions: Is the benefit worth the risk? Am I motivated by my desire to uphold my beliefs or just to impose them on others? Will my actions create collateral damage among those with no stake in the outcome? While physical courage may no longer be a necessary survival skill or an essential rite of passage out of childhood, few would dispute the growing need for moral courage as the true gauge of maturity. Treating this subject not as an esoteric branch of philosophy but as a practical necessity for modern life, Kidder deftly leads us to a clear understanding of what moral courage is, what it does, and how to get it.

Author Biography

Rushworth M. Kidder founded the Institute for Global Ethics in Camden, Maine, and London, England; and was a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor.

Table of Contents

Preface vii
CHAPTER ONE Standing Up for Principle 1(18)
CHAPTER TWO Courage, Moral and Physical 19(20)
CHAPTER THREE The Courage to Be Moral 39(38)
CHAPTER FOUR The First Circle: Applying the Values 77(32)
CHAPTER FIVE The Second Circle: Recognizing the Risks 109(30)
CHAPTER SIX The Third Circle: Enduring the Hardship 139(36)
CHAPTER SEVEN Fakes, Frauds, and Foibles: What Moral Courage Isn't 175(38)
CHAPTER EIGHT Learning Moral Courage 213(32)
CHAPTER NINE Practicing Moral Courage in the Public Square 245(34)
Notes 279(16)
Story Index 295(2)
General Index 297


Moral Courage

Chapter One

Standing Up for Principle

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience inwhich you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say, "Ilived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comesalong." ... You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

Like most private schools, St. Paul's School for Boys posts athletic schedules on its Web site. In the spring of 2001, it listed baseball games, tennis matches, and crew events on its leafy campus in suburban Baltimore. But not lacrosse. Not that spring. Despite being ranked number one in anationwide lacrosse poll earlier in the year, this prestigious 151-year-oldinstitution canceled its entire varsity season on April 3.

The reason? Earlier in the spring, a sixteen-year-old member of thelacrosse team had a sexual encounter with a fifteen-year-old girl fromanother private school -- and, without her knowledge, videotaped thewhole thing. He was apparently mimicking a sequence in American Pie (a movie some of the students had recently seen) in which a character broadcasts a live sexual encounter on the Web. When his teammates gathered at another player's home to look at what they thought would be game tapes of an upcoming rival, they saw his video instead.

None of the teammates objected. Nobody tried to stop the showing.Instead, they watched.

What happened next is a tale of moral courage -- a lack of it amongteammates who failed to stand up against the video, and the expression ofit by an administration that took a formidable public stand. Their debatewas a wrenching one. At St. Paul's, lacrosse has a sixty-year history. It garners solid alumni support, which translates into funding. And it attractssome of the best young players in the region -- so many that St. Paul'sruns the risk of being seen, as one administrator put it, as "a 'jocks rule'type of school." But its students are still required to attend chapel. As aninstitution affiliated with the Episcopal Church, it retains a serious traditionof ethical concern. And it seeks to be a private community dedicatedto serious education in a very public world.

What do you do when a popular sport crosses swords with an ethicalcollapse? In this case, the answer was clear. The headmaster, Robert W.Hallett, stepped in immediately, asking not only (as some who were thererecall), "What happened to our school?" but more particularly, "Whathappened to this young woman?" The boy who made the video wasexpelled. Thirty varsity players were suspended for three days and sent tocounseling with the school's chaplain and psychologist. Eight junior varsityplayers were made to sit out the rest of the season. And the varsity seasonwas terminated.

"At a minimum," Hallett wrote to parents," we should expect each boyhere will, in the future, have the courage to stand up for, to quote theLower School prayer, 'The hard right against the easy wrong.' "

He might well have been speaking for his own administration. Choosingthe "right" was, in fact, hard. It meant disappointing parents, students,alumni, and national lacrosse fans. It meant facing a spectrum ofcriticism that ran all the way from "You made a mountain out of a molehill!"to "You let them off too easily!" It put at risk an array of crucial relationshipswith donors and friends, religious affiliates, advisers and counselors recommending the school to potential enrollees, and the entire Baltimore community. It set in motion a pattern of events that might have either plunged the offending students into deep reflection and self-improvement or pushed them out of the educational arena altogether. And it brought the young woman, who remains anonymous, into the center of a national story over an incident she wanted to put behind her.

Moral courage doesn't always produce an immediate benefit. In thiscase, however, it did. The student at the center of the controversy latergraduated from a local public school. The young woman moved out ofstate and continued her education. Both appear to have landed on theirfeet. Hallett, who moved on to an executive position outside education,was swamped with letters praising his stand, which he kept, and requestsfor interviews on national television, which he turned down. And in themonths following the decision, St. Paul's found that requests for admissionsmaterials actually increased, and that a smattering of financial giftsarrived from new donors far beyond the Baltimore community whowanted to express their gratitude.

Standing up for values is the defining feature of moral courage. Buthaving values is different from living by values -- as the twenty-first centuryis rapidly learning. The U.S. soldiers who abused Iraqi prisoners atAbu Ghraib prison, the CEO of Italian food giant Parmalat who keptquiet as financial malfeasance proliferated, the Olympic athletes whosuccumbed to steroids, the American president who deceived the worldabout his sexual escapades -- these were not horned and forktailed devilsutterly devoid of values. Yet in moments of moral consequence theyfailed to act with integrity. Why? Because they lacked the moral couragethat lifts values from the theoretical to the practical and carries us beyondethical reasoning into principled action. In the defining moments of ourlives -- whether as a student watching a videotape or a president facing anation -- values count for little without the willingness to put them intopractice.Without moral courage, our brightest virtues rust from lack ofuse. With it, we build piece by piece a more ethical world.

Moral Courage. Copyright © by Rushworth Kidder. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Moral Courage: Ethics in Action by Rushworth M. Kidder
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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