Cookie Schwaeber-Issan
Cookie Schwaeber-Issan

The Necessity of Courage in Today’s World

Today I had a discussion with an Israeli about an all-too common phenomenon that is taking place almost daily in the US. I explained what I’d seen on television that morning –  bystanders filming young people who enter stores with large duffel bags or sacs and filling them to capacity with just under $1,000 worth of items on the shelves. Upon completing their haul, they simply exit the store without paying for any of it.

The Israeli, to whom I was speaking, not familiar with American laws, just assumed that since such thefts are not being prosecuted, shoplifting under $1,000 must not be against the law, and, therefore, not an act which qualifies as a crime.

I suppose that an outsider could come to that conclusion, since it’s hard to fathom a country which would allow such practices to occur with no consequences or punishment.

Another astonishing news story in recent weeks has revolved around American pedestrians being beaten to a pulp, sucker punched or harassed while dining outdoors, some actually being robbed in broad daylight or having their food guzzled down by the perpetrators.

While I could continue to supply many more examples, the common thread in all of these despicably cowardly acts is that those committing them are obviously counting on the fact that no one will stop them.  No one will block their exit from the store.  No one will physically hold them back from taking another punch at a poor, often, elderly defenseless person, and no one will even scream out in order to summon the help of others who are younger, stronger and more able to take on these scoundrels.

The horrendous acts continue to be filmed but remain unchallenged and unstopped.  I think back to the days of my childhood when men were strong and not afraid to display muscle and power.  It’s actually hard to remember anyone being accosted on the streets without someone immediately coming to the rescue, because, in those days, people didn’t just stand around and film.

Courage comes in many forms.  The above examples require physical and moral courage – the type which has no choice but to respond after one’s sense of justice, ethics and honest dealing becomes deeply troubled.  Once those impulses kick in, they actually fuel the need to right the wrong by anyone whose conscience is stunned and appalled by the outrage it is visually confronting.  In the case of the above-mentioned theft, physical courage would require someone to block an exit, grab the thief and wrestle them to the floor or snatch their bag and throw it far away from their reach.  Yet, those measures are almost never seen these days.  Instead, muscle has been replaced by the person filming, who seems to draw their contentment from the fact that they are doing their bit by documenting an infraction which will likely go viral.

Courage, these days, also comes in the form of resisting the flood of voices which demand that you obediently comply with whatever is being promoted.  Being willing to resist what is deemed to be “the correct policy,” “the correct science,” “the correct analysis,” “the correct political view “ or “the correct teaching or indoctrination,” will require an enormous amount of courage of convictions, courage of will and courage of fortitude and strength.

I get it!  Watching years of earned respect go down the drain, having your good judgment brought into question, and even the possibility of losing friends and family over differing points of view, is a daunting and frightening prospect.  So it’s no wonder that courage seems to be waning in the face of today’s cancel culture and punitive consequences which are all too resultant in a society that will waste no time taking you down.  Maybe that explains why “filming” indiscretion has become the new mode of dealing with crime and physical attack, albeit with no ensuing penalty for the perpetrators.

Courage also comes in the form of taking a stand – whether verbal or written.  Yet, be forewarned!  This one also comes with a great personal risk.  It’s so easy to “go with the flow,” “make no waves” and compromise in order to save what is precious to you, but will the price exceed your ability to live well while tuning out your deeply held principles and values?  Can your integrity quotient still remain intact after being forced to acquiesce to what your conscience innately knows is wrong? How long does it take before you feel like someone’s property and no longer your own, free-thinking agent whose trusted character and sound wisdom has always served you well?

The first mark of courage is to know that losing it will diminish your personhood in ways which will ultimately cause you to be an ineffective, helpless, weak and unempowered human being.  The absence of courage will magnify the presence of fear, appeasement, lack of assurance, self-worth and inability to lead or influence others.   Courage is a needed element in order to stand one’s ground and be able to express truth and right thinking.  Without that, you will always be at the mercy of someone else’s version of facts or skewed thoughts.

Each day, we are being bombarded with new rules, new standards, new definitions – whether they relate to the present pandemic, our political world view or the ever-evolving societal standards.  Many of those who are attempting to create these dramatic changes are in positions of power.  Consequently, they are not easily toppled or even challenged.  It is only through courage that one can hope to poke enough holes and flaws in their often insane proposals so that others can view the folly of their absurdities and recklessness with perfect clarity for themselves.

Courage often means going against the tide – and sometimes even going it alone. It means being prepared to endure scorn, dishonor, mocking and disdain for daring to express an opposite viewpoint.  However, be heartened by the news that there are also some glorious moments when your courage is rewarded by being proven that you were right all along.  Some may never admit that to your face, but it will be incontrovertible once everything comes to light and your solitary stand pans out to have been right. That, too, will surely happen if you don’t cave, in the midst of societal pressure and calculated manipulation.

Courage is also worth the needed sacrifice which often accompanies the act, because most people, even if they lack it, greatly admire it in others.  In fact, they are quite envious of those who are internally strong enough to exhibit it whenever they must.

In 2021, and the years to follow, there is no doubt that courage will be required in nearly every arena of life.  You will need to display it when being threatened with the loss of a job, the possibility of ruin, the seizing of your personal freedoms, the disenfranchisement by those you thought were your true lifelong friends…and much more.  You will not only need to act with courage, but you will need to endure life through the courage that comes with deep convictions of faith, a clean conscience and honest living.

Courage is no longer an option.  It is an obligation both to yourself and your fellow man as we continue to navigate the very choppy waters of this immensely complex game of life.

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.