Moral Courage: Taking Action When Your Values are Put to the Testby Rushworth M. Kidder
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… See more details below
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.
At the intersection of action based on core values, awareness of the risks, and a willingness to endure necessary hardship is the difficult yet vital concept of moral courage. According to Rushworth Kidder, the founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, moral courage is a practical necessity for modern life. Kidder writes that moral courage is the bridge between talking ethics and doing ethics, and can be defined as the readiness to endure danger for the sake of principle. In Moral Courage, Kidder provides the tools and stories that can help anyone make clear, confident decisions when faced with complicated moral challenges at work, at home and in the community.
While people may have terrific values and develop great skill at moral reasoning and ethical decision making, such mental activity means very little if their decisions go unimplemented. Moral Courage examines the ways that many people have found to complete the third step in the process: to have the moral courage to put those decisions into action and live a moral and ethical life.
Standing Up for Values
In the first chapter of Moral Courage, Kidder explains that standing up for values is the defining feature of moral courage. Citing many examples from recent memory, including the U.S. soldiers who abused Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, the CEO of Italian food giant Parmalat who kept quiet as financial malfeasance proliferated, and Olympic athletes who succumbed to steroids, Kidder points out that in moments of moral consequence, these people failed to act with integrity because they lacked the moral courage "that lifts values from the theoretical to the practical and carries us beyond ethical reasoning into principled action." Without moral courage, even the best virtues grow weak from inactivity. With moral courage, Kidder writes, a more ethical world is slowly constructed.
Why should moral courage matter so much? One reason that Kidder describes is because we see a lack of it in many corporate settings and legal proceedings; in politics, sports and entertainment; as well as in personal and social relationships. But the deeper reason is that if moral courage is indeed one of the core virtues of humanity, we need to find ways to express, support and teach it.
Kidder writes that there are seven checkpoints along the path to promoting moral courage in ourselves and for others. These are:
- Assess the situation. Do I think it calls for courage?
- Scan for values. Can I spot values and build on them?
- Stand for conscience. What principles need to be articulated and defended in this situation?
- Contemplate the dangers. Do I have a clear picture of the risks I'm facing?
- Endure the hardship. If I take this stand, will the hardship make me give up, or will I be able to persist?
- Avoid the pitfalls. Can I stand firm against timidity and foolhardiness � the inhibitors of moral courage?
- Develop moral courage. How can moral courage be nurtured, taught, practiced and attained?
Each chapter in Moral Courage addresses one of these checkpoints, and provides a "Moral Courage Checklist" at its conclusion to help readers examine the elements of each step to developing the courage it takes to stand up for their values.
In a chapter called "Practicing Moral Courage in the Public Square," Kidder points out that moral courage typically unfolds in our private, interior life rather than "across the consolidated consciousness of a community." But if we look beneath the daily headlines, we can see the presence or absence of moral courage in public settings. Citing examples from real life, Kidder shows what that courage � and its absence � looks like from many angles. He points to Juan Guillermo Ocampo as an example of a man who has worked for years to turn thousands of Columbian teenagers from guns to violins with classical music programs that teach them to become role models instead of killers.
He also describes how Senate majority leader Trent Lott found himself on the wrong side of moral courage when his apology for off-the-cuff remarks that were apparently pro-segregationist made matters worse. Kidder writes that Lott left his leadership post in disgrace shortly afterward, "reminding us that a failure of moral courage can be a career-ending move."
Why We Like This Book
Moral Courage presents so many examples of those who have made tough moral choices in a wide range of situations that it offers more than a simple primer on what living by ones values looks like. By describing the challenges that have been overcome by those who choose to live and lead by their own values rather than taking the easiest path, Kidder unfolds a detailed road map to changing the world, one moral step at a time. Copyright © 2005 Soundview Executive Book Summaries
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.05(d)
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