Opinion » Bill Cope

Mr. Cope's Cave: It's Not That Complicated

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It seems a lot of Americans need to be reminded of something—There is no value worth calling a value that doesn't depend for its very survival upon the courage of those who hold it as a value.

That's probably an overly clumsy way of wording it. Let me try again—Morality doesn't exist because people talk about what they should do, but because they do what they should do, in spite of whatever price they might pay for doing it. 

And once more—Without the courage to do the decent thing, people can no longer call themselves decent.

I hope I've gotten the idea across. It's not that complicated really, that if a person believes some qualities should be valued as desirable, noble and transcendent virtues in himself and the society he lives in—things like compassion and charity, grace and humaneness and kindness—then he must be prepared to defend those qualities and act in accordance with them, even if it means there could be some risk involved.

As I've learned over the last four paragraphs, knowing this is easier than putting it into words. That's probably because the words one ends up using are all so conceptual and squishy—"compassion" or "humaneness," "noble" or "transcendent." Even the words "values" and "decent" and "morality" are abstractions that will mean something different to everyone who hears them.

Still, we know what they are when we see them, right?... even when the words we choose might not quite align with the situation. If, for instance, a couple carrying a young child comes to our door in the middle of a winter night and asks for our help out some desperate plight, we know what should be done, don't we? Whether it comes from our religious background, our cultural empathy, our sense of responsibility or just from the innate goodness in our hearts, we know what should be done, even if it means there is a possibility we might be opening our home to potential peril.

It is in that moment right there—the moment when we must decide whether our fears are a more compelling reality than this family's pain—that we find out what sort of people we really are, rather than what kind of people we claim ourselves to be.

In fact, if you don't have the courage to act in accordance with the values, the morality, the ideals and virtues you profess, there is another word for you, and abstract it ain't—coward.

And stupid, too—particularly in regards to the refugee dilemma staring us in the face.

If there is ever to be an end to Muslim distrust of America and American intentions in the Middle East—the only possible way out of this nightmarish Mobius strip of hate and violence on which we have been trapped ever since Bush needlessly set loose the hounds of war on Iraq—it will come from how we respond to Muslims as human beings in circumstances of great distress. Could it get more distressed for those Syrian refugees?

This is that moment, the one that will define America to another generation in the Middle East and beyond. It won't only be the Syrian refugees who remember whether we reply to their troubles with kindness and help or hysteria and hate, but all Muslims. Frankly, it shouldn't be the terrorists we need concern ourselves with the most—we know what to do with them... right, Osama?—but the other 1.5 billion who will remember how we behaved.

One more time—We aren't as righteous as we think we are unless we have the guts to do what is right.