The Courage to Challenge
Bad things happen when good people stay silent. The biggest challenge for us in our comfortable, middle class-ish, contemporary westernised lives is to fight apathy. We are surrounded by causes that need our attention and action, but do we notice? Are we suffering from overexposure, victims of compassion fatigue – or do we just not care anymore? To care means that we have to feel, and to feel can sometimes be uncomfortable.
Courage is captivating; when you see it, it is mesmerising. I want to see more of it. What does it look like? The last 12 months have brought to mind several courageous people: the 2012 paralympians, whose fearlessness brought us to tears; Katniss Everdeen, who made her big-screen debut in the Hunger Games; and, of course, Margaret Thatcher, who for all her faults certainly possessed a kind of courage. The common thread between all of these people, I think, is an element of self-sacrifice. It seems to go hand-in-hand with courage. It takes courage to take the knocks, to endure the pain necessary to achieve what you believe is right.
There is a growing hunger to see courage, particularly for people to have the courage to challenge others, in a way that results in change. Whether it’s the phone hacking scandal or the banking crisis, one question has pleaded for an answer: why didn’t anyone challenge these practices sooner? Are we too comfortable or too afraid to question the status quo when necessary? And when we do see confrontation, it often comes in the form of a blustery, angry, telling-off approach.
There must be something that your average conflict-averse person is able to do, right?
I recently read about a man called Nathan, who had the courage to challenge and was able to do it in a responsible, generous way. Perhaps there are lessons we can learn from his approach. Nathan had to confront a king; he chickened out the first time, but eventually managed to pose a challenge that was effective and full of grace. How did he do it? Or more to the point, how can we do it?
Nathan is an obscure Old Testament prophet; he’s mentioned twice in the bible and was part of the court of the King of David. The root of the name Nathan comes from the Hebrew for ‘to give’; and so comes our first strategy in having the courage to challenge – Nathan is prepared to give of himself. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s seeing the possibility of your demise – and going ahead anyway. Nathan is prepared to forfeit his reputation, perhaps even his life, to challenge the King of Israel, David.
A second strategy that Nathan shows us is to find a way to present the confrontation in a way that it will be heard and received. He reduces the risk of coming up against King David’s wrath by telling a story that he then draws parallels to. Through this story, Nathan reminds David of his humanity and sense of justice, his understanding of right and wrong; so by the time Nathan points out that it is David at fault, they don’t have to argue about what is right or wrong, because they’ve just agreed on it.
Nathan doesn’t leave David to fend for himself either, but helps him. We should be prepared to participate in the process of transformation – let’s not shirk from the hard work that courage requires.
The story portrays one more example of courage – from King David himself. As he is confronted by Nathan, he understands where he has been wrong and apologises, accepting responsibility for what he’s done.
Courage, it’s not cheap, but it can be miraculous.
Words by Madeline Miller