Is it courageous when someone jumps into a lake to save a toddler he doesn’t know from drowning? Or is it an instinctual impulsive reaction done without thought?
Is it courageous for a diminutive black woman to continue to sit in the whites’ only section of a bus in race-segregated America in the sixties? Or is it an act of quiet desperation undertaken with fatigue and nothing to lose?
Is it courageous to quit your job without a plan because it has become intolerable? Or is it reckless?
Is it courageous to go to war and risk your life even when it’s your job and that’s what you’re paid to do?
Is it courageous to cut off your arm when it’s caught between two boulders when the only other option is to die?
Any and all of these are examples of bravery. But lately, it seems, we are more inclined to notice and reward physical bravery than acts of moral courage.
Indeed, our collective impulse is to silence and stifle the voices of those with whom we disagree. We’ve become increasingly uncomfortable when people speak out against the status-quo or fail to conform to social or cultural norms or even if they could potentially offend someone. It is a problem compounded by offensive encouragement to remember we’re part of ‘team Australia.’
This week Larissa Waters backed ‘no gender December,’ a campaign to raise awareness about gendered stereotypes in marketing toys to children. I doubt that she was prepared for the backlash when she was ridiculed and vilified as attempting to ‘kill Christmas’.
Speaking up against the tide requires moral courage – and we need more of it than ever and women need it most.
Women must draw on every ounce of courage when they dare to speak out against sexism because invariably the response is vitriolic and immediate (I know from personal experience).
Moral courage is demonstrated when we choose to exhibit agency: to speak when we could be silent, to act when we could be still. It is easier to find resolve and courage when we are clear about our values and what we care about.
It is then that we can intentionally decide to: choose life over death, risk criticism over praise, be seen and noticed when it’s safer to blend in with the crowd.
Moral courage is the decision to act against the tide, to do what we are guided to do because of our values and conviction – even when others don’t agree.
It comes with responsibility and the willingness to allow dissent. Many acts of moral courage are taken by people with whom we don’t agree – but every time we silence one of those voices we are colluding in silencing them all.