Where, Parents, Shall Courage Be Found?
- Tuesday, February 10, 2009
"We want character but without unyielding conviction; we want strong morality but without the emotional burden of guilt or shame; we want virtue but without particular moral justifications that invariably offend; we want good without having to name evil; we want decency without the authority to insist upon it; we want moral community without any limitations to personal freedom. In short, we want what we cannot possibly have on the terms that we want it." ~James David Hunter
"Be men of courage; be strong." ~I Corinthians 16:13
Before departing on a cruise ship up and down the Pacific Coast with my family, I heard through the pounding public-address system an announcement that, in case of emergency, men should exercise selfless courage and allow women and children to enter the lifeboats first. I laughed, not at the call for masculine courage (a significant dynamic of thumos), but at the wishful thinking of the cruise line and, by extension, our culture. The only reason such a strange throwback to a bygone era (of male chivalry) is able to survive today is that such an (unfortunately) outdated perspective has yet to be challenged in the courts.
Many men now aren’t even inclined to exercise the courtesy of giving a seat to a woman or child on a train or bus en route to a safe destination, let alone a vessel about to sink to the bottom of the deep blue sea. If they survived the disaster after being forced to wait for lifeboats, they’d likely hit the cruise line and the crew with unprecedented litigation. And our gender-scrubbing society would applaud the class-action lawsuits.
In March 1954, my parents came to the States along the same route as the Titanic (sans fateful icebergs). The swells were still troublesome, so much so that Poseidon extended their voyage two days and shifted the cargo so much that the off-keel boat struggled to make progress. My mother was seasick from the start and didn’t feel better till she spotted America’s eastern shore, nine days later. I sometimes think of them retracing that course, my mother below, sipping soda and trying to swallow a saltine cracker, and my hardy father, drinking Guinness near the bow, incapable of sea sickness. Had calamity arisen, I know what decision he would have made.
One memorial in Washington, D.C., is a waterfront statue honoring the men who died on and around the Titanic. Seventy-four percent of the women passengers survived that 1912 catastrophe; 80 percent of the men perished after relinquishing seating that with even a moderate display of physical strength could have been theirs.
The eighteen-foot granite Titanic monument displays a man with arms outstretched, signifying both sacrifice and affection. It was erected in 1931 by “the women of America” to show their gratitude. The inscription reads:
To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic….
They gave their lives that women and children might be saved.
Such courage does not inspire us as it should. That act of corporate bravery played such a miniscule role in the 1997 blockbuster film as to constitute a kind of flag-burning insult. (Women can be and are courageous too; my point here isn’t that courage relates to one gender or the other but rather that we no longer clearly understand, cultivate, and practice courage on the whole.) Writes Christina Hoff Sommers, critic of radical feminism and defender of America’s young boys:
"[Today, such] male gallantry makes many women nervous, suggesting (as it does) that women require special protection. It implies the sexes are objectively different. It tells us that some things are best left to men. Gallantry is a virtue that dare not speak its name."
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