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Teachable moment


By Dr. Ervin Staub
Professor Emeritus of Psychology and founding director of The Psychology of Peace and Violence Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Moral courage is the ability and willingness to do the right thing even though others might disapprove of you or exclude you.

Moral courage means acting on your values even when your actions are contrary to the values, beliefs, or expectations of people around you.

You might need physical courage as well if people’s possible negative reactions are extreme enough.

But almost all the time, in acting with moral courage, there is little or no danger of physical harm.

To do the right thing, it is important to realize that it is possible and sometimes necessary to act contrary to others’ expectations.

Often this can be done with relatively little cost—although the cost is not always predictable.



Ervin Staub has devoted his life—from his childhood Holocaust escape to his distinguished career—to resisting evil and pursuing goodness. He has worked in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo to promote reconciliation; served as an expert witness at the Abu Ghraib trials; developed training for active bystanders; and worked with police departments, schools, and nongovernmental organizations. His most recent book is The Roots of Goodness and Resistance to Evil: Inclusive Caring, Moral Courage, Altruism Born of Suffering, Active Bystandership, and Heroism (Oxford University Press, 2015).