"Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others. "
For a long time, that is what I believed, too, but now, like life, it seems to me much more complicated than I had originally thought.
Erich and I have discussed this, kind of along the lines of the social psychology idea of how changes in knowledge change attitudes and then a person finally changes their behavior. We both agreed that honesty is important, but if you can honestly see a situation is unethical, for example, but don't have the courage to do anything about it, what good is your honesty?
I am never afraid to tell people the truth. This doesn't mean that I am not sometimes sorry that telling the truth might cost me a friend, a job or an election. It doesn't mean I am incredibly courageous, either. Like Stevenson, what I fear most is losing my integrity. If I won an election by lying and deceiving voters, I can't imagine I would be any better in the end than whoever I set out to defeat. It's not really courage if losing isn't the thing you're most afraid of. I am way more afraid of looking in the mirror one day and seeing that I turned into the very people I fought my whole life against.
What is courage without conscience, though?
If all that mattered was courage one of the most ethical life forms is probably the wolverine. It will attack almost anything of any size. Including people. Keep that in mind if you find yourself wandering in wolverine territory.
So, maybe generosity is the greatest virtue. Not just generosity with your things, but that generosity of spirit that Erich is always talking about. Being generous enough to help other people without any expectation of return. Being generous enough to work extra hours just to make sure the clients of your program get the help they need. Being generous enough not to take anything more than you need, not to fly first class when the school district sends you to a conference so that there is a little extra money for the students and teachers. That also takes honesty, the willingness to admit to yourself that the money you are taking for that first class ticket, or the gas you are using to drive the company car to do your Christmas shopping and go to dinner in Fargo, is money that could be better spent.
So, is generosity the most important?
Robert Ingersoll said,
"The greatest test of courage is to bear defeat without losing heart."No, I don't know who Robert Ingersoll was either, but he makes a good point. In the Introduction to Ethics course, there is a case study of "Susie Sainte". Now, Susie is a hard-working, honest tribal employee. The quality of Susie that really stands out for me - and she is based on a combination of real stories of real people - is that she does not give up.
Supposedly, Adlai Stevenson also said that it is far easier to fight for a principle than work for it. I think that is a great truth. While there is no shortage of people who will stand up at a council meeting and yell about the need to do something about alcoholism among the youth, it is a much smaller number who will be at a New Year's Eve lock-in, a summer dance, a sobriety ride, and on and on. After a program loses funding, 90% of those who worked on it will disappear. It is that 10% who write another grant, badger the tribal council for funding, sell Indian tacos to raise money who make the real difference in a community.
In 18 years working with various reservations, I have seen people in positions of authority who lost their jobs, often due to being on the wrong side of a political battle. Some of them gave up, left the reservation, or just got a different job where they worked 9 to 5 pushing papers and collected a paycheck. Others found different ways to pursue their same core values. Erich left the tribal college as president and has since been director of another educational program, Even Start, and for the last several years the president of Spirit Lake Consulting, providing on-line education for the reservations in the Great Plains.
If you don't have perseverance, the fortitude to keep going despite obstacles, then all of your courage, honesty and generosity won't be put into play long enough to have an effect.
So, which one is most important? I think that is one of those questions like which one of your children do you like the most. It's best to just hang onto all of them.