Where courage meets integrity

When I was 5 years old and in my first class at school we used to end the day with a little ritual.


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Sr Anselm would stand at the front and make a BIG, exaggerated sign of the cross say the prayer, say “Good afternoon children” (“Good afternoon Sister” we would chorus back), tell us to line up by the door then tell us “off you go”.

Came the day that Sr Anselm wasn’t in the room when the bell went (an older boy clanging a bell up and down the corridor) and we watched, horrified, through the glass partition as all the other children filed down the corridor to go home. We were going to be left. We’d be stuck in school til tomorrow.. I remember realising what had to happen – WE HAD TO DO THE RITUAL. So I walked to the front of the class. Stretched out my left hand (so the children would stretch out their right hands – I knew EXACTLY how to do it) and began: “In-the-name-of-the-FA-ther..” and said the prayer. Then I said “Good afternoon children” followed by “Line up” followed by “Off you go”. All the children started to file out. Good. Job done.

Then Sr Anselm arrived. She was in such a flurry that her cane with the frayed end (which she held at all times) was getting all caught up in her robes. She ushered us back into the classroom and spluttered out “WHO? WHO said you could go?”. I put up my hand. “I did Sister”. She was beside herself with rage and banged her cane up and down on the desk in front of me using, repeatedly, the favourite phrase of all nuns “you bold girl”. I sat and watched, head bobbing, as the cane went up and down thinking “Now what did I miss out? I said the prayer, I said good afternoon……”

I think back to that 5 year old girl and wondered what had possessed me to do that. All I can remember is feeling strongly that something had to be done – the ritual – and I was prepared to do it. (None of the other children objected. I suspect they were all relieved). What I lacked then was the vision to understand the consequences of my action yet still make the choice to go ahead and do it. So was I being courageous? I don’t think so.

As I got older, more than a few times I would be in the position of being the one to stand up for something – to someone – while others promised to do so then reneged. The consequences weren’t always pleasant but I did it anyway. My sense of rightness overcame my fear of the consequences.

However I can remember more times when I chose NOT to do the right thing because it didn’t suit me or it wasn’t the right time or…any number of excuses. And when I didn’t have the necessary courage then integrity went out of the window.

So integrity (from the head) might be knowing the right thing to do but courage (from the heart) is what’s needed to do it. The two are inextricably linked. And that connected line between the head and the heart is the path that will take us to soul.