Moral Courage: The True Strength of People and Professions Alike

By Dr. Christopher F. Nollette, Ed. D., NREMTP, LP

My friend and colleague, Chris LeBaudour, has been traveling the country teaching us about ethics and values. Through his presentations, Mr. LeBaudour has awakened our fellow professionals and inspired our students to come to know themselves better by identifying values and ethics.

All of us have values, but the defining feature of moral courage is to have the courage to live one’s values even in the face of tremendous pressure. While most of us struggle with doing what is right in a given situation, a few among us do not hesitate. They move confidently forward with their values as their guiding light that shapes their lives.

As I stop to think about people who fit this description, I think of Mother Teresa, Ceasar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and Mahatma Gandhi, who are just a few that had the moral courage to stand against the injustice of the status quo. These people put themselves in harm’s way physically and emotionally, all the while knowing that their very reputations and life were at risk in the face of enormous pressure to comply. These are our greatest heroes, for their actions and courage ensured that we acted morally. Without them, so many things would not have changed in this world; so many wrongs would continue to prosper.

It has been my observation that we are more comfortable with giving praise for a courageous act, such as running into danger to save another, than to follow our values of decency, fairness, honesty, compassion and responsibility in situations that occur in our daily lives. While the act of running into danger is truly an act of courage and should be noted, the greater and more difficult courageous act is to do what one knows in their heart to be the decent, fair, honest, compassionate and responsible
course to pursue.

The physically courageous act is accomplished and the praise duly noted; however, in moral courage, the price that is paid is always high, and there may be no praise for months, years or a lifetime. There are those among us who use moral courage as a shield to reach out and attack others, claiming they are of high moral standing when their actions show that they are nothing of the sort. Their actions define the opposite of moral courage, showing cowardice and a lack of loyalty to self, others and to values.

EMSpic-27Loyalty – Facta Non Verba (Deeds Not Words)

So many colleagues choose the path of least resistance because they fear the retribution, the criticism and the alienation of others. They work to tear down those around them who are modeling excellence in their lives since they lack confidence in themselves. These cowardly folks have failed to realize that when you lift others up, you also raise yourself. They believe if they cannot meet the mark of excellence that they must bring the bar down – closer to them. The true value is found in those that have the dreams to build new possibilities, not those that can simply tear down dreams.

These colleagues are content to look after themselves and carefully groom their reputation and manipulate others around using a cloak of deception in all that they do and say. They are not loyal to anyone or anything, which is a key element to having moral courage, a loyalty to one’s values; to those you work with and to those you serve each day.

From that loyalty, trust is born and from trust, one builds a reputation of being trustworthy. This begins the journey of having a sense of self and that while they do not stand for everything, they stand for something of value.

This builds a foundation for seeing the world not framed for ourselves, but for the potential that exists to be of service to others. That requires use of the best of what we have learned and practiced for a lifetime: our values, our loyalty, becoming trustworthy and adding another key ingredient that must be a part of our walk to moral courage.

Learning Moral Courage – The Recipe

The experts say that moral courage is a learned and a practiced trait. In Kidder’s book Moral Courage, he notes that three steps must be practiced and lived to bring out our very best in ourselves and in others – discourse and discussion; modeling and mentoring; and practice and persistence.

EMSpic 19Discourse and Discussion

We as a professional body must have a discussion on what moral courage is and how we can make this relevant in and out of the classroom. We must have the “conversation” as our starting point so we can begin to explore how we can make a real difference in our personal and professional lives. Let’s begin the process of revolutionizing our thinking by starting the conversation with each of us, and doing it sooner rather than later.

Modeling and Mentoring

We as a professional body must not just speak about moral courage, we must live our lives as an example each and every day. Our colleagues and students must see that we live our words – for no words need to be spoken about our lives. It unfolds daily for everyone’s inspection. Do not tell me who you are – show me who you are and let your actions speak for you.

Practice and Persistence

We must begin to practice and build upon the skills needed to foster moral courage. We must be loyal, trustworthy, compassionate, responsible, decent, fair men and women of character who live our values.

As we begin to build new habits, we shed the old ones that kept us chained to self-doubt and limit
our moral courage. We begin to see the world and ourselves differently with a renewed sense of urgency that changes ourselves and those around us in a positive and productive way.

My fellow colleagues: I believe that each of us has a destiny and that we must rise to meet this destiny through our deeds, embracing it personally and professionally. Let us march forward with faith in ourselves and a belief that we have confidently been preparing for our hour – our trial – with our values to guide us. Before our lives are extinguished, let it be said that we had the moral courage to become a better people, profession and generation – let this be our finest hour.

Dr. Christopher F. Nollette, Ed. D., NREMTP, LP has been involved in emergency medical
service education for more than 30 years while also serving as an award-winning professional
in all risk public safety career fields, including air medical, SWAT and special technical
rescue. He will present “Creating People Skills: A Generational Look” and “Emotional
& Social Intelligence: Hillbilly Heaven” as keynote speaker at the EMS Conference
January 30, 2016, in Selden and EMS Seminar March 5 and 6 in Montour Falls. Visit for details.

Reprinted with permission from “Moral Courage: The True Strength of People and
Professions Alike” by Dr. Christopher F. Nollette, Ed. D., NREMTP, LP, Spring 2011,
Educator Update. © 2011 by the National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE).