“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every other virtue at the testing point, which means at the pint of highest reality.” C S Lewis.
“(Courage is) the greatest of all virtues; because unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.” Samuel Johnson
The message is – unless you act in accordance with your values when to do so is most challenging, then you aren’t really living in their accord at all.
We all have those moments when we fail: when we are dieting and dip into the fridge*; when we declare we will be patient then race another driver trying to pass us to get to a roundabout first; when we focus upon excellence and then do a ‘get by’ piece of work; and so on. (Please insert your own examples.)
Life does tend to undermine our good intentions, sometimes. These examples illustrate moments that are arguably forgivable, because the consequences aren’t that great and rarely impact upon others. Except that they do.
When you fail to act in accordance with your stated values, people notice. Their comments on your failure range from taking the mick, as in “Ha! I knew you couldn’t do it!” which is a visible and almost humorous response, to a more impactive form of noticing – when they see you for what you are and your failure excuses theirs.
When I was ‘the police’, we swore an oath to treat all without fear or favour, without any form of preferential treatment. But it was often strange how people of note, suspected of crimes, were treated with kid gloves while colleagues were treated with contempt. How Billy Burglar would have his door kicked in while His Excellency the local councillor would not have his house searched if he wasn’t in. How Fred the fraudster would be arrested without ceremony while someone who threatened to complain would be ‘invited to attend the police station’. How a manager would not change the decision of a previous manager even as he acknowledged that the former decision was wrong.
I admit I am guilty of the former, lesser examples of values dissonance where my word isn’t quite kept when the hunger pangs kick in. I am always willing to be wrong. I am willing to be taken to task (politely) when I fail. Every failure that leads to a later success is worth the criticism because it makes me more courageous as time goes by.
And I fervently pray that when the moment comes, and I am truly challenged to act in accordance with my values, that the kind of courage called for by Lewis and Johnson courses through me and I perform exactly as I stated I will.
*Hyrum W Smith put it this way – at 7AM you declare you’re on a diet. At 1PM you’re sat on the second shelf of the fridge devouring everything you can get your hands on.