When courage is a virtue

One must have spirit and spunk to execute tasks only for good reasons and not otherwise.

SIR Winston Churchill once said that courage is all that it takes to stand up and speak and courage is also all that it takes to sit and listen. I would like to share my thoughts on the topic COURAGE, a value which is very much related to the ethics and integrity of any person or organisation.

In this context, my focus is on moral courage rather than physical courage. Writer Ambrose Redmoon looked at courage not as the absence of fear but rather as the judgment of something more important than fear. While author Mark Twain saw courage as the resistance to fear and English author Samuel Johnson regarded it as “the greatest virtue of all for unless we have this value, we will not have the security of preserving all the other values”.

In relation to what these great people have to say about courage, I would like to reflect on my personal experience in tackling bribery. This is to inspire other school leaders to embrace the virtues of courage, honesty and integrity.

In 1996 I was given the unenviable task of turning around the Tawau Technical School in Sabah. This school had a long-standing reputation for being a failing school scoring only 28.28% passes in the Secondary School Certificate Examination. With such poor academic results, it was clear that the whole management of the school needed reengineering. It took me lots of courage to enter the school not knowing what to expect.

The most terrifying moment was when a notorious man demanded that the school pay him for projects that did not even take place.

As he talked roughly, he placed two fingers on the table and started tapping them. Puzzled, I asked him what it meant. He said that it was his gesture of offering me commission if I were to pay him. Two fingers had signified 20%. Upon seeing that I would not accept his bribe, he turned violent and threatened to kill me speaking in Hakka ngai sart ngi!

At this juncture, I gathered enough strength and retaliated aggressively. I jumped up to meet the challenge, demonstrating as if I was going to wield Chinese kungfu and shouted Sart! (Kill!)

Then I said: “Remember we have the police and the court. Most important of all, God is watching!"

Shocked to see my reaction, the man left the office in a huff, but not without banging on the table, chairs and door cursing at the top of his voice. An analysis of the incident demonstrated the positive execution of moral courage as I believed fully that God would deliver me from the evil one. In the face of danger, threat and temptation, I was able to use courage to defend the integrity of the Education Ministry as well as the principles of proper school financial management.

If nothing is being done about bad behaviour, it will continue and worsen. Hence, courage as we see it then, is not limited to the battlefield. One should have some solid sense of moral justice when dealing with unethical behaviour.

Had I succumbed to the man's bribe, I would have been charged for corruption!

While Stephen Covey considered patience as the mother of wisdom, he regarded courage as the father of wisdom as this value co-exists in harmony with other core values like trust and honesty.

I read with respect and pride that Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who is also Education Minister had apologised to the nation over the leakage of the 2014 UPSR papers, deemed as a national disgrace.

With reference to Jim Collins' book entitled Good to Great, Muhyiddin had displayed attributes of a great leader. He confronted the brutal truth by taking responsibility.

It takes a great leader to apologise especially to the nation at large as it is not only about humility and modesty. It is about courage, ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to regain the credibility of the system.

Furthermore, he has exemplified a key moral value to teachers and students alike.

Moral courage is rare and comes from a firm conviction that the person has within. Standing up for one's principles takes moral and ethical courage especially in the face of difficulties, danger or uncertainty.

We, as leaders in our own respective organisations, need to execute courage effectively.

While the exercise of courage is necessary, a word of caution is needed here.

Courage is only accepted as a virtue when it is executed for noble deeds like defending the honour and integrity of a nation or for developmental purposes.

Courage will rear its ugly head if it is executed for unhealthy personal gain like cheating, corruption or for carrying out immoral activities like rape. Finally, courage should only be executed with a positive attitude and right conscience. Let us, therefore, as leaders of the organisations we serve, use courage as a virtue in order to uphold the integrity of the public service and our nation.

* The writer, Datuk Mary Yap is Deputy Education Minister. Connect with her via Twitter @maryyapkc and Facebook.com/maryyapkainching. This is one of a series of articles for this column which will appear every fortnight. It will also see the contributions of Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh and Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan who will share their views on various education-related issues.

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