I’ve coined a new word there: acourage — to be free of courage.
My colleague Dave Christensen studies moral courage: in short, how do people get the guts to be outraged and do something about it.
At the other end of the spectrum, David Brooks discusses the modern phenomenon of the absence of moral courage.
First, students often seem unaware of what morality is:
When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.
To this they add insularity:
Many were quick to talk about their moral feelings but hesitant to link these feelings to any broader thinking about a shared moral framework or obligation. As one put it, “I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.”
You have to wonder why people have been trained not to act:
Again, this doesn’t mean that America’s young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America.
There’s even a name for our substitution of committee indecision for individual moral corage:
… Sturdy virtues are being diluted into shallow values. Alasdair MacIntyre has written about emotivism, the idea that it’s impossible to secure moral agreement in our culture because all judgments are based on how we feel at the moment. [emphasis added]
I’m not sure what to make of all this.
But, I am discovering personally, that the most resonant event of my life increasingly appears to be when I parked my car across two lanes of oncoming highway traffic to create an island of safety so I could help an old woman who had fallen crossing the street — somehow, my first 33 years had prepared me for that moment, and I’ve been thinking about it for almost 15 years since. What is it about my life that made that decision possible?