When circumstances call for action, but timidity or fear stand as obstacles to  moral responses to those demands, one’s philosophies are meaningless. Beliefs in what is “right” are hollow when the prospect of facing potential risks outweighs the certainty of the results of inaction. Somewhere along the spectrum between very real danger and the illusion of risk, cowardice may come into play. Yet no one wants to admit to cowardice. Explanations for inaction, when situations scream for immediate response, rarely include cowardice. But there comes a point when one’s refusal to act—fueled by fear for the consequences to oneself, whether personal safety or potential damage to one’s image—cannot be adequately explained by anything else. Fervent support for others’ difficult reactions to perilous conditions may be beneficial to one’s self-esteem, but others’ bravery is not a legitimate proxy for one’s own fortitude. Or lack thereof. Cowardice probably is far more common than courage, though it is extremely difficult to measure either and impossible to compare their prevalence.

The foregoing paragraph offers an abstraction of reality. Sometimes, reality is too brutal; it can be safely approached only by stepping around it, gingerly. By so doing, the brutality of reality may be made even more clear.  And cowardice steps up and confidently proclaims its legitimacy.


I spent quite a long time with my primary care doctor yesterday. The purpose of the visit, a thorough follow-up appointment, seemed almost tangential because we got into a discussion of politics, morality, conservatism versus liberalism, and a host of more concrete issues. Despite the fact that the two of us gravitate toward opposite ends of the spectrum of political and social philosophies, we share a number of opinions about social and political issues. And we seem to share an interest in civil conversation, discussion, debate, and argument about matters on which we disagree. Both of us feel strongly that compromise on philosophical disagreements is absolutely necessary for progress. Stalemates resulting from obstinate refusal to compromise are unnecessary and irresponsible. I appreciated the opportunity to experience a conversation with my doctor, as opposed to what I have become used to: an almost mechanical exchange in which the humanity of neither doctor nor patient is acknowledged.


Today, Saturday, will feel more like a workday than a usual weekend day. Church-related “business” is on the agenda, both morning and afternoon. Such is life in retirement.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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