Monday, December 9, 2013

Maya Angelou: "Courage is the greatest of all virtues because it enables one to practice all the other virtues"

Maya Angelou, (Guardian)
Maya Angelou, While speaking to Harry Smith on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday, was asked what it was that enabled Nelson Mandela to forgive his enemies an his captors. Her answer seems to have stuck in a place where I cannot get it out of my mind.
"Courage is the greatest of all the virtues because it enables one to practice all the other virtues!" she commented, as she gave thanks for the life this man whom she watched on the day of the release from Robben Island and reflected yesterday, "I was proud to be an American, I was proud to be black, I was proud to be a woman on that day!"
"Courage, that quality that enables one to practice  all the other virtues!"
And, while there seem to be many examples of a kind of physical courage, one searches for the kind of courage that enables all the other virtues.
Political courage, of the kind that both F.W. de Clerk and Mandela demonstrated, seems to be wanting from the right wing of the Republican party, as it has taken for its single purpose, supported by its home base, the destruction of the presidency of Barack Obama. It also seems to be wanting in the majority of the electorate in North America where the gap between rich and poor, if it were a river bank, would long ago have made the news because of its sheer size, and the destruction of so many homes and people. If it were a car pile-up on a frozen freeway, it would have made the nightly news for many days, because of the individual stories of death, injury, and hopelessness.
If that chasm, between the have's and the have-not's, were a sinkhole, it would have devoured thousands if not millions of people, houses, dreams and we would have established an emergency relief centre to examine both the causes and the impact of its devastation.
However, because the millions of people whose lives have been shattered, broken and eroded have no headline-making news quality, the issue creeps into our consciousness through unemployment data, through the growth of food banks, through the increase in the drop-out rates from schools and colleges, through the increase in illicit drug use, through the increase in domestic violence and ennui on too many homes, or occasionally, through the news story that makes everyone feel good, for example on Ellen Degeneres' television show. There, the host provides financial assistance, cars, furniture through her sponsors, to individual families whose stories she has garnered on her website, and to her audiences and sponsors, they become the means for "feel good advertising" and also "feel good entertainment".
Workers everywhere, are cowed by the prospect that should they express their feelings of desperation, especially at the low end of the wage scale, (as has been done recently by the fast food workers across the U.S.) they will quickly be replaced by one of the thousands of applicants just waiting for the chance at that job. Even Allan Greenspan, appearing on GPS with Fareed Zakaria yesterday, commented that he could not remember a time in his lifetime when there was so much ill-ease, uncertainty, nervousness in the American economy, and that if the Federal Reserve does not ease its life-support injections of billions into the economy soon, there would be a serious reckoning in the economy.
"Courage, the virtue that enables one to practice all the other virtues"
The politics of personal self-aggrandisement is not built on the virtue of courage.
Even the entertainment of sexuality and violence is not premised on either the writers' or the actors or the sponsors' courage, but rather on the grab for instant return on investment, as all participants morph into micro-corporations, seeking lights, applause and ultimately profit.
The administration of most workplaces, while needed, is not based primarily on either personal courage or leadership courage, but rather on fear that another "above" will come down on any error, fearing the pressure of supervision that itself is based primarily on the fear of losing one's job....hardly the exercise of the kind of courage that Mandela and de Clerk found, needed, demonstrated and left as their legacy.
Courage does not come out through bullying, of whatever kind in whatever situation.
Only reconciliation, mediation, negotiation and compromise come from courage, strength and self-respect.
In generating a culture of fear, at the lowest and broadest base of our society, we are collectively engaged in a process that finds the seeds of its own destruction in our 'race to the bottom' while a few with large bank accounts, no matter how honourably achieved, continue their flight to the 'sun' of their preferred beach, too many of them avoiding tax, avoiding compassion and the courage to recognize that their "achievements" renders them even more responsible for the plight of the millions who starve, who suffer and who die, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
It is the Bill Gates and the Warren Buffet's who, at least in the North American culture, have given us examples of pioneers in the manner in which they disburse their accumulated wealth....and we will need millions of similar 'winners' to demonstrate courage not merely through philanthropy but through giving back.
And the Canadian Governor General, David Johnson, has initiated a project he has  called, "mygivingmoment.ca" in a national attempt to garner the kind of courage and generosity that even the "winners" need, whether they know it or not.
It is not by winning, and demonstrating our capacity to compete, that we demonstrate our courage; it is rather is our capacity to endure our own pain and the suffering of those around us, and to demonstrate compassion, forgiveness and acceptance that we demonstrate courage....and that lesson can and should be taught in every classroom, at every kitchen table and in every boardroom, not to mention even political office in the land....and not several generations from now, but this day, this month, and this year.

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