Saturday, August 17, 2013

This is not courage

Here's a quick follow-up to my post about the traffic configuration blues facing the City of Newton. As mentioned, the Board of Alderman voted to deconstruct a renovation project that was recently completed.

Now comes the latest news that some of the Alderman sent an email to their constituents explaining their vote, using the following subject line: “Admitting our mistakes takes courage."

First of all, as I noted in a comment:

It is really poor form to attribute courage to one’s own actions. Others should always be the judge of what’s courage and what’s something else.

But then, I went further and stated:

IMHO, calling this “courage” is a vast overstatement and denigrates the real meaning of the word, as we would usually apply it, e.g., a firefighter rescuing a child from a burning building. 

Let's stick with this point for a minute.  Merriam-Webster defines courage in this way: "Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty."

When seen in that light, the Aldermanic vote is just the opposite from courage.  It was a way to avoid difficulty, i.e., the complaints from constituents.  But even if it is a tough vote, use of the terminology in this case weakens its meaning when there are real cases of courage.  I'd like us to retain the purity of meaning so we can apply it in truly inspirational instances: For an act to be courageous, it has to be not only selfless but also at variance with the usual human tendency for self-preservation.  If you want to see courage with regard to a mistake, for example, watch how a distraught doctor who has made an error openly and honestly discloses it and apologizes to a patient and displays his or her vulnerability in the process.

So, I ended my comment by saying:

No, taking these kinds of decisions is actually just part of the job of public officials. Let’s just call it making a judgment call–a good one or a bad one–and leave it at that.

The Aldermen's note is typical of the kind of "grade inflation" used by so many legislators today.  You know, the ones who constantly remind us how "hard they are working" to create jobs for Americans, to protect us from hazards, and so on.  Hey guys and gals, sitting in a legislative chamber and using your brains and abilities to decide which way to vote it not "hard work."  Yes, it is work, and when done right, it takes thoughtfulness, experience, and dedication.  But "hard work" is what many of your constituents do every day. If you want to see hard work, for example, shadow a transporter in a hospital, a nurse in an ICU, or a physician carrying out a delicate procedure. 


@jlschuster827 said...

From Twitter:

Courage: Sayed Elzenari in the streets of #Egypt trying to aid injured. Alderman and traffic? Self-promotion.

Anonymous said...

Well not only that, but it normalizes the tendency to not admit mistakes. Admitting mistakes should be a normal part of daily life, even for a politician - not some unnatural, death-defying act. Give me a break.


Jane said...


CharterReform said...

Paul, I love your thoughts. Keep it up and I loved your defense of your blogs on village 14. Keep up the great work.

Tom Sheff