I realize this post might come across as political. That is not my intention. Rather than focusing on the politics, policies, or prejudices of the individuals I discuss below, I hope you will look at their courage to stand up for what they believed in and their willingness to let the consequences follow from their actions.
The initial inspiration behind this post comes from Senator Mitt Romney. I know. Some of you might dismiss my praise of Romney merely on the basis that we are both members of the same religion. Or that I am not particularly fond of the rants of our current President. But we can learn from people of courage, even if we don’t agree with their stances.
As a recent article from The Atlantic described it, Romney “is voting his conscience when doing so comes at a cost.” Of course, the vote referred to is the Senator’s decision to place his conscience over his party when he became the lone Republican Senator to vote in favor of one of the articles of impeachment against President Trump. For those that missed it, here is Romney explaining why he voted the way he did:
Romney told of a church hymn that came to his mind as he deliberated how to vote. One line from that song is “Do what is right, let the consequences follow.” That line convinced him to follow his conscience.
Someone once said, “More people would listen to their conscience if they could tell it what to say.” Romney might not have liked what his conscience told him, but he listened to it, even knowing the consequences could be severe.
Immediately following the Senate vote, his fellow Republicans castigated Romney as a turncoat. President Trump tweeted: “Had failed presidential candidate @MittRomney devoted the same energy and anger to defeating a faltering Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does to me, he could have won the election.”
Mike Lee, Utah’s other Republican Senator, tweeted, “Congratulations @realDonaldTrump. I’m looking forward to your next five years in office. Those who voted to remove you were wrong. Very wrong.”
The President’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., stated that Romney is a member of the resistance, and the GOP should boot him from the party.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference, tweeted, “Hey Utah, you have a problem, and we @ACUConservative would like to help you fix it. #DumpRomney.”
Since Romney is not up for reelection for another five years, we will have to wait to see if the backlash ends his political career.
Sorry, but I don’t understand how you can criticize someone for doing something they believe in. How can you fault someone for choosing conscience over politics?
In announcing his decision, Romney referred to his religious faith, which led some commentators to compare him to Sir Thomas More. More served as the Lord High Chancellor of England, and was one of King Henry VIII’s chief advisors. But More was a devout Catholic and refused, on religious grounds, to acknowledge the King’s annulment of his marriage to Cathrine of Aragon and as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Those refusals led to his conviction of treason, which ultimately led to his execution.
The film, A Man For All Seasons,[i] captures the political battle between King Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More. Here is the scene where More is convicted:
Losing his head became the consequence that followed Sir Thomas More’s courage.
Centuries later, as Union forces battled Confederate forces in America’s Civil War, The Union’s Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln, had to fight members of his cabinet to gain the support of the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery. The film, Lincoln,[ii] dramatizes this battle. Here is one of the best scenes from the movie:
Of course, soon after the end of the Civil War, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, at least partly as a consequence of his standing up to the enemies of preserving the Union and abolishing slavery.
But it is not only heads of state that stand up for what they believe is right. I had never heard of Kathryn Bolkovac until I watched the movie, The Whistleblower.[iii] That movie tells the story of how Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer, uncovers a United Nations cover-up of a sex trafficking scandal in post-war Bosnia. In 1995, thousands of international peacekeepers flooded into Bosnia to help repair the damage done by the war. But many of these peacekeepers became perpetrators of human trafficking, sexual violence, and abuse. Bolkovac reported her findings to Madeline Rees, who worked for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In this scene, Rees warns Bolkovac of the potential ramifications of her report:
For blowing the whistle on these crimes, both Bolkovac and Rees faced sanctions, stigma, and termination of their careers with the United Nations. Fifteen years later, Bolkovac explained that she had suffered emotional, financial, familial, and professional turmoil since she decided to “do the right thing.” She once remarked, “People ask me continually if I regret what I did or if I would do it again, and, as time has progressed, I would now really need to think about my answer.” But then she reaffirmed her commitment to accountability and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Decisions of conscience often bring unwelcome consequences. American journalist, Henry Louis Mencken, once quipped, “Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.” Someone else joked that “conscience makes a boy tell his mother before his sister does.” My favorite is, “Your conscience doesn’t keep you from doing something wrong; it merely keeps you from enjoying it.”
Let’s hold up Mitt Romey, Sir Thomas More, President Lincoln, and Kathryn Bolkovac as examples of courageous people who followed their consciences, despite realizing that consequences will follow. And let’s have the courage to do the same.
[i] A Man For All Seasons:
- Production Company: Highland Films
- Director: Fred Zinnemann
- Screenwriter: Robert Bolt
- Starring: Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, and Robert Shaw
- Release date: May 3, 1967
- Production Companies: Dreamworks, Twentieth Century Fox, and Reliance Entertainment
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Screenwriter: Tony Kushner (based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin)
- Starring: Danield Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and David Strathairn
- Release date: November 16, 2012
[iii] The Whistleblower:
- Production Companies: Sadsmuel Goodwyn Films, Whistleblower (Gen One), and Barry Films
- Director: Larysa Kondracki
- Screenwriters: Larysa Kondracki and Ellis Kirwan
- Starring: Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, and Vanessa Redgrave
- Release date: October 7, 2011