Courage of Conviction
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
You consider yourself a caring, compassionate person. On the way to a coffee shop meeting with a friend you pull up to a stop sign. Glancing out the passenger window you see what appears to be a homeless person prone on the sidewalk in a pool of vomit. Numbers of pedestrians stride by pretending to not notice the person in distress. What do you do?
Integrity and honesty are part of your core values. Working as a junior accountant you discover that a coworker is skimming small dollar amounts for himself. Your immediate superior favors the embezzler and has exhibited dislike for you. What do you do?
A person can think s/he cleaves to certain values, but the genuineness or depth of one’s ideology is revealed in how one acts (or doesn’t act) when opportunities to exercise them are presented. In Word of Honor by Nelson DeMille the protagonist’s wife, Marcy, says: “The test of how we feel about our convictions is whether or not we stand up for them when we are personally involved.”
To be sure, situations that challenge our convictions vary in scope and importance. While the concept of sticking to one’s principles is the same, there is a significant qualitative difference between the issues of high school dress codes and abolishing environmental protection regulations. One needs to make careful judgments with regard to the weight of any given issue and the personal cost of acting based on the relative importance. This can be a delicate balancing act.
But Marcy’s statement stands. It is a caution to not cop out on our cherished values. The wisdom to decide if, when, and how to speak and/or act is a lifelong discerning process. I’m still working on it.