Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Let us foster moral courage

by KParthasarathi Wednesday, June 04, 2008
When I was a young boy studying in class 6, there was a heavily built bully in the class. Being the son of the class teacher he ran amuck doing things that pleased him with none bold enough to question him or complain against him. He stole lunch boxes and took away from the school bags of others whatever he desired. He beat the weak boys and frequently pushed a polio affected boy without any provocation. The poor teacher was not aware of the misdeeds of this bully as none informed him. It was a hot summer. There was a big earthen pot kept in the corner of the class room. The water boy filled the pot with water each morning before the classes commenced. There was a brass tumbler kept by the side of the pot. The boys slaked their thirst in between the two classes. It so happened one day the bully commanded one boy to fetch him the water in the tumbler. The boy ignored him and after drinking the water came back to his seat. The bully roared” how dare you disobey me? If you do not get me water within the next minute, I will make you pay for it.” The boy did not move. All the other boys watched anxiously suppressing their glee at his defiance. The bully got up in anger and thrashed the boy. He took the black board wiper and hit the pot breaking it into pieces with all the water spilling out. It was a little later the class teacher entered and saw the damage. He took the cane in his hand and asked generally who broke the pot. There was a deafening silence. The bully stood up and said that the boy who refused to give him the water broke the pot in anger as others were drinking water and he did not get the tumbler when he wanted. The good teacher lost his temper unusually and beat the boy once when there was a sudden shriek ”Stop it, Sir”. Everyone turned towards the direction of the voice. It was the polio affected boy. He said “Sir, the pot was broken by your son in anger as that boy refused to bring him water. Your son beat the boy also. He is tormenting us daily in several ways.”The teacher looked at the class and asked “Is it true? You do not have to fear him or me. Answer truthfully.” All the boys en masse shouted ”Yes, sir” in affirmative. The teacher full of remorse at his rash behaviour rubbed the boy’s arm and asked him to take his seat. He called the polio affected boy to his side and affectionately put his arm around him and said “I really appreciate your speaking out the truth. I do not know why all the others did not have the courage as you have. I am thankful to you.” He called his son near him and caned him thrice telling that he was ashamed of him.
The point of this story is that most of us lack the moral courage to stand up to injustice wherever we see. While the soldiers who fight the war, the firemen who fight the raging fires and the policemen controlling a violent mob are all courageous in the course of their duty, ordinary people remain mute witnesses to the atrocities out of fear. The daring few whistle blowers pay heavy price for their courage in this unethical system. While individually we cannot fight the corrupt politicians, the greedy mafia, the defrauding traders, we should collectively raise our voice of protest at the appropriate times. I have read that ‘moral courage is not just an intellectual exercise. Having the strength to do what is right when faced with difficult decisions is key to being an ethical leader.” If the ration shop or a petrol bunk deals with adulterated goods, we must have the courage to appeal to the consumer protection organisation. If the auto driver fleeces you, you must stand up for your right and take a public bus than succumb to his unreasonable demand. It is difficult and inconvenient too but we must at some stage learn lessons from great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi or a Nelson Mandela. The latter had said that "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." We should teach our children by personal example in the ordinary daily transactions about the values of integrity and moral character. Even in the sphere of games, how many players have the willingness to walk without waiting for the umpire’s ruling when they know they are out? We must develop the strength to stand up for what we believe. Our actions should be based on our ethical values and willingness to undergo hardships and even face some risks. We should not be willing accessories to manipulative bosses in office, cunning politicians during elections and corrupt bureaucrats in our dealings. It is high time that schools set apart an hour for moral instruction to children even from the small classes to build a nation of high moral fibre.

1 comment:

  1. Great one, Parthasarathi.
    "mute witnesses to the atrocities" and "The daring few... pay heavy price for their courage in this unethical system" are very well-chosen expressions.
    We pay a price either way;if we don't try to stem the rot, we shrink in our conscience. If we are courageous and honestly try to right a wrong, we face opposition, (like in your story, from the bully) but we get the invaluable feeling of being just.
    best wishes