Moral courage is the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences. To understand this definition better, we first need to understand the meaning of “What is moral?”. In general, a moral is a message conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. For example, we are always being told the story of Satya Harishchandra to convey the importance of truthfulness. Morality is the differentiation of things and actions that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper. Should we always speak the truth? Should we place ‘money’ above everything else? Should we respect elders irrespective of their wealth and educational qualification? : these are the questions that morals help us to answer.
When we are born, we come into this world as ‘blank slates’ without knowing what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. This, we term the child innocence but as we grow, we learn from others. This process is known as socialization – the things that we learn from society. Immediate society is your family, then comes the school with your friends and teachers and later on in your life, it is the work place from where you learn many aspects of life. In the 21st century, family has ‘outsourced’ most of its teaching process to schools and thus the role of schools becomes very important in creating a personality out of this ‘innocent child’.
Unfortunately, school education concentrates more on the ‘syllabus’ and ‘grades’ which in reality should have been the means to a goal – personality development. The means have become ends in themselves. As far as I remember, the school boards felt the need and introduced ‘moral science’ as a subject. But, we read this also just like any other subject, memorizing and reproducing answers in the examinations without understanding the morals effectively. Not everything can be taught according to ‘syllabus’ and as a subject. Schools must set apart sometime everyday to help students understand and develop their personality.
Moral courage is an important aspect on ones’ personality. We always hear people saying ‘Today’s children are tomorrow’s citizens’ but I doubt that our schools, colleges and education system are producing engineer, doctors, clerks, etc rather than good citizens and human beings. Schools must think ‘out of syllabus’ and introduce students to our ancient culture. One can appreciate how smart our ancestors were when we read something like ‘In the abundance of water, the fool is always thirsty’ in Rig Veda. There are beautiful stories in the Buddhist Jataka tales that will help students to understand morals. We must also introduce to the students, the great thoughts and quotations of our leaders. For example, Mahatma Gandhiji said ‘There is enough on this earth to satisfy everyone’s needs but not to satisfy human greed’. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in a farewell speech told his students “Do not lose the foothold on earth while sweeping the skies’.
Teaching morality to students is one thing and practicing it is another. Both teaching and practicing must feed into each other if it has to make an impact on the student and his or her personality. Moral behavior of students must be consistently rewarded and immoral behavior must be discouraged. To save a friend, one need not tell a lie to teacher. To help a friend to pass the examination, one need not allow the friend to copy. These are morals which must be introduced and imbibed in the students creatively and not through ‘rules’ and ‘stick’. Punishment only makes students to use more immoral means to achieve their ends. A teacher must act as a friend and philosopher and help the student to identify what is right and what is wrong. However, a line of caution here! There is a thin line between ‘teaching’ and ‘indoctrination’ and the teachers must be conscious enough not to project their thoughts and ideals on students.