Profiles in Defiance
Acts of defiance are desperately needed right now. Yet, they seem unfortunately to be in short supply.
Nothing ever truly great is accomplished without someone having the courage to defy popular opinion and stand up for what’s right. Consider the last century. Winston Churchill spent almost a decade as a backbencher in Parliament, ostracized and ridiculed for warning against the impending threat of German invasion, before he was finally and fully vindicated with the outbreak of World War II. Gandhi’s bravery led to India’s independence from British rule and inspired civil rights and freedom movements across the world. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, igniting the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. courageously led that movement, inspiring others to carry on the fight, including Nelson Mandela who took on and defeated apartheid in South Africa at the cost of his freedom for twenty-three years.
Acts of defiance are desperately needed right now. Yet, they seem unfortunately to be in short supply. This is why I decided to write about Congresswoman Liz Cheney this week. While she clearly does not deserve to be included in the pantheon of individuals above – very few individuals do – she does deserve our respect and support. She was recently removed from the House Republican leadership for repeatedly rebuking President Trump for his false claims of election fraud and his role in inciting the January 6 Capitol attack. Cheney’s act of defiance stands out not so much for its particular personal bravery as it does for it occurring amidst a paucity of instances of public courage. Leaders of all stripes seem to be playing it safe. CEOs attempting to appease everyone at the expense of truly leading. Politicians complicit in the spread of misinformation. And the everyday person like you and me who is all too willing to wait for the next guy to speak up.
As I write these words, I am thankfully forced to reflect on my own acts of defiance or lack thereof. I am inspired to make amends for the instances where I have failed to take a stand for what I know to be true. And I am committed to doing better going forward. I hope you are too. We need you to.
President John F. Kennedy knew the importance of defiance. His 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book Profiles in Courage is worth revisiting. Here is the list of winners of the Profiles in Courage Award established in 1989 by members of his family to honor those who have exhibited exceptional political courage.
Time just released its 2021 list of the world’s greatest leaders. I loved seeing New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden at the top of the list.
I really enjoyed this Ted video on the misunderstood importance of verbal hesitations such as um, like, and y’know. It will have you rethink the conventional wisdom of avoiding such “filled pauses” at all costs.