Courage (n): The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger and pain without fear.
A few days ago, I had a chance to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and it was quite a disturbing experience. Now, I have certainly watched my share of movies and PBS specials about the horrors of the Holocaust, but I had never been this close to it. The exhibits were appropriately stark and designed to engage all of one’s senses.
You know, it wasn’t until I was in college in the 1980s that I became aware of terms like “situational ethics” and “moral relativism.” I even heard some folks on campus posit that there were no absolutes when it comes to right and wrong, only competing preferences. Well, I can’t imagine anyone completing a tour of the Holocaust Museum and maintaining that perspective. When men, women and children are being brutally murdered and used for grotesque experiments, and when even their hair is being “harvested” to make pillows and lamp shades, it tends to focus the mind. Make no mistake. There is right and there is wrong. Absolutely…
Given my role at NFI, I have an “occupational hazard” of always considering history, even history as unsettling as the Holocaust, through the fatherhood lens. As I viewed the many pictures of fathers, often taken just moments before they and their families were murdered, I could not help considering how horrible it must have been for them. It is the essence of good fathering to protect, but these dads could not. Nonetheless, although they were overpowered, they refused to abandon their wives and children. They were courageous.
Interestingly, there was another group of fathers who are too often forgotten, but who were complicit in these crimes. They were the millions of fathers in communities across Europe who watched their neighbors get rounded up, but remained silent. They knew that absolute evil was happening in their midst and, yet, many did nothing. They lacked the courage to take a stand.
It’s been said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and especially good fathers) to do nothing. It is also worth remembering that each day every dad must choose between courage and comfort; for to be courageous is never comfortable and to be comfortable is never courageous. The Holocaust is a poignant and painful reminder of the consequences for any society when too many dads choose comfort and too few choose courage.