Moral Courage- Doing the Right Thing, Always- I

Just two days prior to the tumultuous United States presidential elections the news headlines read-

“A Once Restrained Fauci Unleashes on White House Coronavirus Approach days Before Election”

….”White House Attacks Fauci After Dire Warning About Coronavirus Pandemic”

Naturally, when we read such headlines, irrespective of one’s political leaning, we would try to mentally process the conflicting signals in such headlines. Besides our own opinions about the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation measures, the question which comes to mind is- why is Dr. Fauci, going “ballistic” in public just two days before the election? Is he right in doing so?

A rationale human being would want to provide a mental heuristic for this apparent conflicted question. This in turn would help resolve in ones own mind the conflict for the stance one take (for, against or neutral) in this ongoing debate.

I believe, that if we use the stance of substituted judgement and put ourselves in Dr. Fauci’s shoes for a moment and think about the critical question he faces when deciding on a course of action “What am I to do?” Speak out or hold my peace.

This is a moral dilemma which not only Dr. Fauci faces but is something countless humans face especially in leadership positions at crucial junctures.

In the religious realm, Christianity has seen this moral questions in the reflections of St. Augustin of Hippo (fifth century), Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century), Martin Luther and John Calvin (sixteenth century). In Hinduism, the very basis of its religious book- the Bhagawad Gita- is a dialogue between Arjuna (a disillusioned leader) and Krishna (his charioteer- a God incarnate) in the middle of a battlefield. Arjuna is filled with a moral dilemma and despair about the violence and death the war will cause in the battle against his own kin. He wonders if he should renounce and seeks Krishna’s counsel, whose answers and discourse constitute the Bhagavad Gita- an eternal source of moral compass for a disillusioned and despairing soul.

Such leaders, I believe, can seek solace and an internal peace during and after such crisis and critical events, by using a moral judgement perspective.

Rushworth Kidder, in his excellent book “Moral Courage” defines

 “as the quality of mind and spirit that enables one to face up to ethical challenges firmly and confidently, without flinching or retreating.”

Coach With Love on Twitter: "Moral courage is a more rare commodity than  bravery in battle or great intelligence. - Robert F. Kennedy… "

He also adds that the “essence of moral behavior is not, however, the ability to reason, but in doing which is right. After all, what good is understanding about honesty, fairness, and professional responsibility if there is no willingness to act, especially in circumstances, where the right thing to do is difficult?

…But often, the right thing to do involves personal adversity, and it takes courage to make it happen. This type of courage is called moral courage.

The Stoics philosophers from the Ancients believed that courage was a key virtue besides wisdom, temperance and justice.  “Summmum Bonum” was the expression from Cicero, Rome’s greatest orator which in Latin, means “the highest good.”

Epictetus, the slave Stoic philosopher said “Don’t you know life is like a military campaign? One must serve on watch, another in reconnaissance, another on the front line. . . So it is for us—each person’s life is a kind of battle, and a long and varied one too. You must keep watch like a soldier…” — Discourses, 3.24.31–36. When asked which words would help a person thrive. “Two words should be committed to memory and obeyed,” he said, “persist and resist.”

On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, Stoic philosopher who struggled not to be corrupted by absolute power, to be a good man even in the face of Rome’s decadence and decline, said that justice was the most important virtue. To him, it was “the source of all the other virtues.” After all, how impressive is courage if it’s only about self-interest? What good is wisdom if not put to use for the whole world?

“…And a commitment to justice in your own acts. Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good. What you were born to do.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31

Is this decision to speak out by Dr. Fauci, a sign of moral courage or a political calculation? Make it for yourself as we draw from prior stories where one showed/ did not show moral courage. In others, after the event, is the acceptance of their mistakes and failure is a sign of moral courage as well?

Tiananmen Square:

June 5, 1989– The unknown man holding two shopping bags trying to make a stand against the might of the Communist Party.

Genocide- The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

An event which President Bill Clinton calls the biggest professional regret of his presidency

Bill Clinton talks about his biggest regret not coming to aid of Rwanda during its conflict

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, sent in 1993 to enforce a peace agreement between warring factions in Rwanda, found himself in the middle of a bloodbath with few troops to aid his mission. As a force commander of the U.N. Assistance Mission to Rwanda, Dallaire watched his peacekeeping mission disintegrate as rampaging Hutus killed at least 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in a 100-day period. During this time of inter-ethnic chaos and international diplomatic inaction, the Canadian officer struggled to save the lives of thousands of Rwandans and stop the madness. Dallaire was so marked by the complete indifference of his superiors and the international community for the nightmare in Rwanda that he later tried to take his own life.

“I Shook Hands with The Devil”
Bill Clinton in Rwanda- Four years after the Genocide

1939- Krakow, Poland- Nazi Atrocities and Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler, a war profiteer and member of the Nazi party saved over 1100 Jews during World War II, is portrayed in Schindler’s List– a movie which won seven Oscar Annual Academy Awards in 1994. Liam Neeson portrayed as Oskar Schindler, a German businessman in Poland who sees an opportunity to make money from the Nazis’ rise to power. Oskar was a member of the Nazi Party, who was a ruthless profiteer-turned-hero, showed moral courage by risking his life to save hundreds of other people.

Schindler arranges to continue using Polish Jews in his plant, but, as he sees what is happening to his employees, he begins to develop a conscience. He realizes that his factory is the only thing preventing his staff from being shipped to the death camps.

He stopped hundreds of Jews from being exterminated in concentration camps by sending them to work in his factory. Once set on a humane course, he reveled in the moral grandeur of it and pushed to do as much as he could. By the time Germany falls to the allies, Schindler has lost his entire fortune — and saved 1,100 people from likely death. This movie explores the human capacity for monumental evil as well as for extraordinary courage, caring, and compassion. The film turns history into a moral lesson by revealing how fragile civilization truly is.

The survivors The Schindlerjuden, literally translated from German as the “Schindler Jews” He died in 1974 and was buried in Jerusalem — the only former member of the Nazi party ever granted that distinction. In 2012, there were estimated to be over 8,500 descendants of Schindlerjuden living across the world. He received a ring from his workers after the war. There is an inscription on the ring that says “He who saves a single soul, saves the entire world” from the Talmud.

Colin L. Powell- 2003

Powell will be remembered as the first African-American to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and US Secretary of State but also militarily only for having twice defeated a feeble Iraqi army and for the conquest of Panama.

On his first day as Secretary of State, a crowd in the Department of State main lobby gave him an unprecedented welcome. This greeting was because of his status as a war hero and respected leader. During his tenure at State, some believe that Powell surrendered his integrity when he did not make a stronger case against invasion—or resign—rather than support a position with which he did not agree. In his now dead-wrong 85-minute speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, he declared convincingly that the United States had irrefutable evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Ultimately, no weapons of mass destruction- a key reason given by the Bush administration for the United States to enter war against Saddam Hussein- were found.

However, Powell showed immense moral courage in facing and owing to the decisions he took. He now call it as a “painful” for him personally and would be a permanent “blot” on his record. One can also posit that he was either loyally supporting his Commander-in-Chief or attempting to remain on the inside to influence policy.

In an interview when asked how painful this was for him, Mr. Powell replied: “It was painful. It’s painful now.” Asked further how he felt upon learning that he had been misled about the accuracy of intelligence on which he relied, Mr. Powell said, “Terrible.” He added that it was “devastating” to learn later that some intelligence agents knew the information he had was unreliable but did not speak up. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”

We’ll leave you with this entry from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations,

“If, at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, prudence, self-control, courage—than a mind satisfied that it has succeeded in enabling you to act rationally, and satisfied to accept what’s beyond its control—if you find anything better than that, embrace it without reservations—it must be an extraordinary thing indeed—and enjoy it to the full.

But if nothing presents itself that’s superior to the spirit that lives within—the one that has subordinated individual desires to itself, that discriminates among impressions, that has broken free of physical temptations, and subordinated itself to the gods, and looks out for human beings’ welfare—if you find that there’s nothing more important or valuable than that, then don’t make room for anything but it.”

A major role of a leaders is not to get to the easy questions, but to ask if they have the moral steel and courage to respond to the tougher questions and be able to look at the mirror, when our days of reckoning come… were we moral and just!

My kids elementary school motto “Always do the right thing” also sums it up. Its all about moral courage.

So is Dr. Fauci, in taking this stance showing moral courage?

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