Advent’s courage to hope
In the Christian calendar, people associate the period of Advent with the quality of hope. With the uncertainties and cares of our days, it takes courage to hope — which brings to mind an experience etched in my heart.
Nearly four decades ago, as part of an Amnesty International mission to Colombia, we visited a jail in Popayan in the Cauca Valley and interviewed five Indian leaders of the Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca, or CRIC. One of them still had fresh bullet wounds in his flesh yet he stood upright and unbowed. “Aun tiene sentido su lucha?” Is there still meaning in your struggle? I asked, as he was obviously in pain and isolated from his companions. I cannot forget his answer: “Aun amanece en la noche mas oscura.” Dawn comes even after darkest night.
He believed. He was certain, no two ways about it. In the midst of seeming despair, he brought home to me the meaning of hope in the starkest manner. If only one believes in a cause bigger than oneself and musters the courage to remain true to one’s northern star, then hope lives. It is kept alive.
Hope starts with belief, and it goes beyond expectation. Hope is not some kind of optimism, an expectation, or a wish that things will become better, or that things will improve. It is a belief in oneself and in others; a belief founded on our sense of purpose, pursuing meaning in what we do and who we are. Hope can be both complex and starkly simple, as in: “I do this because it makes sense, because it is the right thing to do; I do this because of our children, because of our country.” It is hope that allows us to pursue the marathon journey, and to take the first step, the next, and the next.
Hope is not the expectation of a better day to come; it is the belief that a new day is possible because we strive to make it happen—though it may not always be in the shape and form that we initially envisioned.
It is for this reason that I believe that hope is intimately and intrinsically linked to courage. To hope requires the courage to believe; it demands faith not only in ourselves but also in others. Hope, moreover, requires the power of love so that we put our hands to the plough with all our heart, and not turn back because often the journey is not only about ourselves but also about those whose lives we have touched or those whose lives have touched ours.
Hope, I believe, is found in the course of the journey, not only at its end. And, this is one area that links hope with courage.
Given our context today, in our country and in the world at large beset by threats of war and violence, by the politics of hate and fear, by political discourse turned uncivil and divisive, by transgressions against human dignity, characterized by the lack of respect for women and children, the intolerance to people who are different, and the inability to live with diversity, it is important to underline and emphasize the critical need for moral courage.
Moral courage is “brave behavior” in the face of risks and threats, despite the costs. It means the ability to do the right thing in the right way in the face of one’s fears. It requires the capacity to confront and conquer fear, and demands that we firmly stay the course. It demands, moreover, the ability to exhibit fortitude, to adhere to one’s convictions and principles, and to call upon that much-needed capacity to oppose unethical or inappropriate behavior.
There are times when we know that the odds are stacked heavily against us, that there seems to be unanimity that our chances are slim, even nil. Nevertheless, we proceed to take a stand and take action because it is what our convictions and conscience tell us. This is what moral courage is all about. As a leader in the emancipation of people of color during the American civil war put it: “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”
In times like ours and in a world so deeply divided and burdened, when hope is in such short supply, it is important to dig deep into our reservoir of moral courage. Change in our country and in the world will begin only if there are changes in our mindset and in the way we confront the challenges that beset us, dealing with our fears with uncommon courage, bringing about hope in uncertain times and places.
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Ed Garcia, a framer of the 1987 Constitution, taught at Ateneo and UP, worked at Amnesty International and International Alert in London, and now serves as consultant on the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.
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