Thursday, January 12, 2012

Strength of Character--Fortitude

Our premier Catholic Magazine had an article on fortitude and education and how they relate to each other. The writer, a doctorate in cultural studies, mentions that a friend told him during a phone conversation that his son's bicycle was taken from him at school, and wanted to know what he should do. What did the son want to do? asked the writer.  The son wanted to go to the school to ask for the bike and the writer agreed, and if not returned should then speak to the teacher, he added.  But the father had problems with both solutions, worried that the son would be the object of bullying.

In this case, all worked out well for the boy. One of the worst things feared by children is getting known as squealing to parents: a big reason for bullying. The father was happy for his son but warned  that all does not work out  so nicely in life.

The way the father handled the problem was not the writer's preference. The writer would have liked to see more education emphasizing the need for courage and loyalty.  The reason for saying the one being bullied brings it upon himself, which is the common thinking of children, is not based on reality, he said. Children would believe that bullying is caused by a  lack of communication skills and living in one's own world. There is no way, he says, that this can be easily determined, and trying to rationalize what happens after the fact is, he believes, cowardly.  

He recalls Renè Girard and his theory about scapegoating. He saw it as the effort to shuffle off blame to another person to free oneself from guilt. He calls this the 'scapegoating mechanism.' Jesus, Girard says, fought against this, and did so by becoming the innocent baby lamb of the exodus. Jesus was the innocent scapegoat, and by accepting this freed all others who were being scapegoated. He should have put an end to scapegoating.

Jesus did not fight the injustice head-on but put an end to the scapegoating habit by his courage.  He put an end to the continuing reign of injustice and the rationalization of injustice by courageously facing it.
The writer asks what do we do in the Church when we are teaching our children? Do we encourage them to be courageous in facing difficulties and help them join others who are courageous? If the parish community  is not able to do it, are we  willing to introduce them to others who are?

The views expressed in the article are interesting since in the Catholic tradition fortitude  is one of the four  cardinal virtues. But care has to be taken not to fall into either of two extremes: rashness and timidity; virtue is midway between  excess and neglect; courage is a virtue  between rashness and timidity. No doubt our formation of character during our early years would tend to one extreme or the other. Hopefully, the way we have developed our personalities would enable us to distinguish between the two extremes. This would also be a reason why it is not easy to make a prudent judgement in the here and now on how to act in any particular situation. We do have, however, within Christianity those who we call saints who have given us examples of how to live, and, not forgetting our first textbook, the life of Jesus.   


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