Practice Moral Courage (book excerpt)

Practice moral courage.
Moral courage enables you to stand up for what you believe in when others disagree. When others propose to do something they shouldn’t, the person with moral courage is able to make his or her own choice, instead of going along with the crowd. When others are saying things that are rude, or hurtful, or inappropriate, the person with moral courage calls them on it. When others are mistreating someone, the person with moral courage defends him.

This is the hardest habit to acquire.

For most teenagers, nothing is more important than having friends and feeling liked by others. Practicing moral courage is difficult because it means being different and disagreeing publicly. Most people are afraid to be different, and afraid to disagree publicly, because they fear losing their friends or being disliked.

Adults often fail to practice moral courage, too. Think of all the people who listen silently as someone makes racist remarks, or all the people who do nothing about dishonest business dealings in their companies. The world would be a better place if more people had the courage to do the right thing. For teenagers, however, because having friends and being liked is so important, moral courage is especially difficult.

Difficult as it is, practicing moral courage will often earn admiration, respect, and true friendship. After all, we have a word for people with moral courage: we call them heroes.

Moral courage is important, too, because it can save you from doing or saying stupid things that will cause you embarrassment and regret. Sometimes it can save your life, or someone else’s. You may one day be urged to get into a car whose driver has been drinking. If you have been practicing moral courage in many little ways, and have developed the habit of thinking for yourself and doing the right thing, it will be easier to tell your friends that you’re not getting into the car and that they shouldn’t, either. If, however, you lack moral courage, you may find yourself sitting in the car wondering how you ever got yourself into such a dumb and dangerous situation.

Practice moral courage every day, in little ways, and you will see that the more you do it, the easier it gets. Every time you do or say the right thing instead of taking the easy way by going along or remaining silent, you will respect and like yourself a little bit more.

The only way to have friends is to be a good friend. The only way to be liked is to behave in ways that make you like yourself. If you don’t like yourself, how can you expect others to like you?

You can practice moral courage in many everyday situations. Here are some examples.

  • You and your friends are deciding what movie to see or where to go, but you don’t like the choice they all prefer. Instead of going along silently or pretending to agree, say, “Well, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you all like it, that’s OK with me.”
  • One of your friends, describing something she doesn’t like, says, “That’s so gay!” Instead of letting her remark pass without comment, have the courage to point out—tactfully—that the expression she has used is actually a slur against homosexuals. “I know you didn’t mean it that way, but you shouldn’t use the word ‘gay’ to describe bad things. What if people said, ‘That’s so blonde!’ to describe something stupid? Even if a blonde tried to laugh it off, it would still be hurtful.”
  • One of your friends has gotten a tattoo, and everyone is admiring it, but you don’t like tattoos. Instead of letting everyone believe that you also think tattoos are really cool, have the courage to express a different view. “I’m glad you like his tattoo, but personally, I just don’t see the appeal.”

When you have survived experiences like these, you’ll be much better prepared to protect yourself and do the right thing when those around you are experimenting with alcohol, drugs, or sex, or driving cars recklessly, or doing any of the other foolish and dangerous things that people in groups sometimes do.

Author: Eric MacKnight

I have been teaching English since 1980 in the United States, Morocco, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, The Netherlands, and China. Good Habits, Good Students is my first book.

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