Living Well

April 30, 2010

The Challenge of Moral Courage

I was so struck by the quotation I lost concentration during the meeting at hand.  My attention was arrested by an elegantly refined calligraphy quotation of Dante Alighieri seated in a beautiful frame.  The quotation pierced me in a way not many quotations have in some time.  While many quotes focus my mind on a topic, this bold statement by Dante forced a deeply personal inquiry, “Have I been or am I now morally neutral on issues in this world that truly matter?”  The quote simply stated, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”

The question that ran across my mind is a frightening introspection among a host of possible beliefs about oneself.  We may believe we are honest, just, respectful, and kind when it comes to others.  These are traits we can exhibit at any moment and in various ways.  I can show kindness by taking a plate of cookies to my neighbor or I can be honest by not cheating on my income taxes.  These acts may cost me time, energy, a bit of inconvenience or money in demonstrating personal character ingredients I believe about myself.

But moral courage is at the highest level of our willingness to demonstrate our character.  Moral courage asks us to pay a price with our reputation, friendships, or even our lives.  A striking aspect of moral courage is that it calls us to be other centered.  While some of the “others” might be friends or family members, it is quite likely they would be strangers, people who are normally just faces in the crowd.  It may also be that these strangers live in another time zone of the globe, whose skin and culture are very different from our own.  It was moral courage displayed when fire fighters, police, emergency personal and ordinary co-workers and selfless airplane passengers gave their lives to save others that fateful 9/11 morning.

So what might be ideals calling for our moral courage?  When we look around our globe, it is easy to find any number of stages for demonstrating moral courage.  The environment, unjust labor markets, war, human rights violations, abortion, racism and genocide are just a few that come to mind, but there are many others that we could name.  In considering these moral and ethical issues, the haunting question remains, “Would I be willing to pay a personal price for the well-being of strangers or future generations by confronting and overcoming these issues?”  It may be one of the most deeply personal and spiritual questions we will ever answer during our existence.

This is not new landscape to navigate.  Across the horizon of moral courage are signposts bearing people’s names that have paid a personal price for standing boldly against the flaming arrows of the issues they confronted.  Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln are just a few individuals most recognized for wagering their lives in moral courage.  There are, however, countless others with moral courage, nameless and unheralded by historians, who have sacrificed their lives to become voices for reason and justice.  We may not know them, but we are eternally in their debt for attacking the severest issues that face humankind.  In recent years, filmmaker Steven Spielberg has shaped our concept of moral courage by delivering dramas of unknown heroes; simple women and men who gave their lives for causes set before them.

In reality, we are being summoned to moral courage whether we acknowledge it or not.  It may be our voices of reason are needed for stamping out human rights violations in some remote region of the globe or maybe our courage is needed in “downtown anywhere” where racism and hatred are choking sanity.  We are in reality indelibly connected to each other, no matter what corner of this planet we occupy.  By looking away, we grant permission for oppressions to continue and loud voices to prevail.  Our answers to these human cries must be our willingness to carve our names on the signposts peppered across the landscape along with those that have responded with their sacrifices, even if it was their own life.

It is a choice to live isolated or to “make our business that of humankind.”  I am not naïve in believing this is a decision made lightly or that our actions will stamp out the moral perplexities of our world.  But these decisions and personal choices to act with moral courage may carry eternal significance like no other.

So ask yourself, “Would I be willing to put my reputation, possessions or life ‘one the line’ so that injustices may be made right?  Why or why not?  Would I be willing to join a picket line or demonstration that would require my taking a public stand on some moral issue?  Would I be willing to boycott products or services that perpetuate human rights violations?  Do I value my personal safety and well being above that of others?  Why do I make this stance?

Moral courage.  It may be the highest test of living well.  Blessings, grace and peace for every day of your life.

David Neidert

April 21, 2010

A Proper Perspective breeds Humility

Filed under: character,Personal Leadership — dlneidert @ 8:56 pm
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Say humility and your mind might fashion an image rather quickly.  It might conjure someone with a mousy appearance who is frail in weight, socially awkward, and a stifled voice on matters that would require any confrontation.  It might be an image of the “ah shucks-bashful” kind of person who is embarrassed to receive accolades given to them.  If that type of image splashes across your cranium, it would be wrong.

Humility is a mid place between self-abasement and self-exaltation.  Humility lies between these opposites where personal self-perspective knows one’s own worth in relation to other human beings.  It is, as the Apostle Paul writes, “knowing not to think of oneself more highly than you should…to think with sober judgment.”  We might, however, better perceive this appropriate mid place if we more fully understood the extremes.  It is as Dag Hammarskjold wrote, “Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exultation.”

Being self-abased is one extreme.  We are self abased when we disgrace ourselves through conduct or dishonor our own character.  We are abased when we discredit or in the ultimate sense degrade ourselves.

While there might be those that would see humility residing here, they would be mistaken.  Humility does not rest with self degrading behavior, no matter how we attempt to make that definition fit.  In the Greek understanding, humility never has to do with this negative connotation, but always with something good about a human being.

Likewise, humility is not self exaltation.  At this end, self exaltation is haughty pride and self promotion that may take us close to delusions of grandeur.  This extreme is the residence of arrogant pride, where English novelist, Emily Bronte writes, “people breed sad sorrows for themselves.”  

Humility is that exacting mixture of self esteem and self worth.  In sober self esteem, we have a healthy opinion of ourselves, a confidence that does not tend toward either self abasement or arrogance.  Likewise, in healthy self worth, we see ourselves of value in relationship to others, a confidence that permits us to see our worth as equal to others, not as inferior or superior to those we encounter.

In living humbly, we know we are not the center of the universe, but also know we are not “scum;” we understand our proper place within our relationships and world.  Rudyard Kipling seizes the essence of humility when he encourages, “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue or walk with kings…and not lose the common touch…If all people count with you, but not too much…” then you have found that mid place where self esteem and self worth give confidence.

So ask yourself, are you living at the extremes of self abasement or self exultation?  If you are, what emotional satisfaction do you receive from living at these extremes?  Do you view humility as weak or as understanding your place in the universe and among others which allow you to relate confidently to the world?

Humility helps us establish a fair belief about who we are.  Grace and peace to you as you discover where you reside on the continuum.

David Neidert

April 8, 2010

Keeping Promises

How good is your word?  When you say, “I promise I will do this or that” does the person receiving your words walk away in confidence that what you offered will be done?  Could that individual go about their usual business without giving even another thought to the conversation they had with you because they know the promise you made will be fulfilled?

It is easy to make promises, because we view them today as a description of intention, with an unspoken caveat that depending on the circumstances, our pledge may or may not be fulfilled.  Promises, however, are pledges of assurance that we will or will not act as we have stated.

Promises are a gift that we give people about our actions and intensions in the future.  Critical to this whole issue is that when we give a promise, we also give the receiver every reason to expect that the intent of our promise will be carried out.  Our stating we promise to do something is thus a guarantee.

It is easy to make promises, but much harder to keep them.  Promises we make to others is about our character, about who we really are; a description of our reliability and dependability in a given circumstance.  As Aeschylus, the ancient Greek dramatist observed, “It is not the oath that makes us believe the person, but the person the oath.”  It is not then our words, but our actions.  It should be remembered that a single promise unfulfilled does not discredit us as an unreliable person.  But if we are prone to not keeping our promises, people will over time stop believing in us and may even withdraw from us because we are not reliable or dependable when it counts.

We not only make promises to others, but we also make promises to ourselves.  David Allen, guru of time management, believes we create internal stress, self doubt, lower self esteem, and a sense of incompleteness when we break promises we have made to ourselves.  He calls this string of broken promises and the induced stress that comes with it “The Gnawing Sense of Anxiety.”  And the promises don’t have to be big ones.  They just have to be made and consistently broken.  Take the example, “I will lose 25 pounds of body weight in the coming six months.”  Now, to do this a man needs to eat only about 2,100 calories a day over six months instead of eating 3,000 or more daily and increasing one’s physical activity.  But it is easy to break the promise and commitment.  It simply goes like this.

You eat well for three or four days and then you “slip up.”  So, you chastise yourself and promise not to do it again.  This works for another 24 hours, but then that late night bowl of ice cream looks too good, you just don’t have any willpower, and there go 600 calories.  The result: agony about the eating of the ice cream and another pledge.  You know the cycle.  If you have ever tried losing weight you know the drill.  And so it goes.  Over time then, you stop making the promise because “I am just worthless and cannot control myself.” Again, many have been there and know the kind of self talk, self ridicule, and self loathing that creeps in.

So how to succeed?  It goes back to my last blog posting; if you make a promise, are you willing to be disciplined enough to fight through it or find those who will help you in the instance so that you might persevere and gain your goals.  Are you, as Muhammad Ali observed, willing to suffer a little now for a life of success and happiness?  Are you willing to expend the needed energy to keep the promises you make?  It isn’t easy, by any means, but it can be done when we are willing to put in the time, effort, and keeping the promises we make to others and ourselves.

 Blessings, grace and peace in this most difficult, but beautiful discipline of keeping one’s promises.

David Neidert

April 2, 2010

Personal Discipline Can Bring Success

The Macedonian phalanx subdued the ancient Near East by 323 BC under the command of the youthful general, Alexander the Great.  The phalanx was no military or technological marvel, but was in reality a crude war machine compared to the chariots, calvray, and Special Forces of other ancient cultures.

The phalanxes, comprised of heavy infantry or foot soldiers, were armed with no more than a helmet, breastplate, shin guards, shield, a small sword, and an eight foot long pike with bronze tip.  Yet when these soldiers marched in formation and coordinated effort, they conquered the largest land forces of ancient warfare, the Persians, with decisiveness through strategy.  As a side note, I would encourage you to read about Alexander the Great and his victory at Gaugamela in a history book.  That battle portrays an ingenious strategy and confidence rarely witnessed in the ancient world.

What made this rudimentary, foot soldier driven phalanx unstoppable by the great military forces of the ancient world displayed in Persia?  Arthur Ferrell, author of the book Origins of War (1985) writes that this type of fight and formation places a “heavy premium on training, discipline and courage.”  Ferrell notes that ancient fighting is brutal and requires soldiers to supplant the instinct toward self preservation and the fear that goes with it, “even if it is only for a little while” during a battle.  That fear to quit was only overcome by the “rigid discipline” and training of the Greek soldiers, sometimes severe compared to our thought of training today.

Discipline is a necessary personal quality for living well and developing personally.  The Greek word for discipline is sophoronismos, literally meaning, “to save the mind, admonishing or calling to soundness of mind or self control.”  This soundness and self control for our mental, moral and physical powers comes through instruction and exercise.  Without these two ingredients, we will fall in the face of mounting opposition.

Muhammad Ali is considered without much debate the greatest boxer that participated in the sport.  Ali trained hard in his early years realizing that the pain of the present must be overcome for the champion’s life.  A disciplined body and mind permitted him to subdue his opponents with decisiveness, even predicting the round the challenger would be eliminated.  It is as Ali said, “I hated every minute of the training, but I said, don’t quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”  That discipline catapulted him to declare often and rightly, “I am the Greatest.”

We may not have enemies as fierce as those of the Greeks nor opponents as physically challenging as Ali’s, but we do have challenges regularly throughout our lives that require a disciplined personality to overcome their advances. If we are to face life’s challenges with resolve, then we must follow the advice of Ali and the practice of the ancient Greeks.  We must put in the time and effort now to develop self control and discipline that can guide us in the tough moments that life routinely provides.  We can live well by living disciplined lives; that practicing discipline will allow us to stand even for a little while longer when the moments of opposition come.  Blesssings to you as you live with discipline that may lead to actions and attitudes of peace and grace.

David Neidert

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