You Don't Need a Cause to Do What's Right
It was certainly moving to see more than 40 world leaders and a million people marching in solidarity down the Boulevard Voltaire in Paris. The nearly universal condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter, a terrorist attack on freedom itself, is heartening, to be sure.
But it’s not nearly enough to combat the scourge of radical Islam that threatens the safety of the free world and the very way of life of western civilization.
A cause is only as powerful as the actions of each individual. While it’s one thing to identify with a cause – talk about it, write about it, even march for it – it’s another thing entirely to choose doing the right thing over acting in your own self-interest. Faced with that dilemma, I’m afraid that few would make the right call these days.
Noticeably absent from the march was President Obama or any high-ranking U.S. official, for that matter. The Obama administration isn’t willing to name the enemy – Islamic terrorists – or even call it a war on terror. The reasons? Political correctness and political expediency. He declared the war on terror over and it’s in his political interest to continue to spin it that way, all evidence to the contrary.
None of the major newspapers had the guts to show the cartoons for which those 12 people were so brutally executed. Had they all agreed to show them, that would have sent a powerful message that they’re all standing up for freedom of expression and are not afraid of terrorists. That would have been a far more courageous statement than all the “not afraid” banners at the march combined.
Sony’s executives gave in to cyber bullies and pulled the release of the controversial comedy “The Interview” rather than stand up for free expression. Sure, the hackers made threats, but the Department of Homeland Security said they weren’t credible. The real reason Sony caved to the scare tactics instead of doing the right thing and releasing the film as planned was risk aversion. Again, self interest.
Every day we have dozens if not hundreds of frivolous and egregious lawsuits in America. And while folks love to point fingers at the legal profession, the laws, even the greedy plaintiffs, none of them will pass up a chance to stick their own hands in someone else’s deep pockets. The real reason we need tort reform is because so many of us act selfishly instead of doing the right thing.
Now that I think about it, if our political leaders, our corporations, and the media are all willing to talk a good game but, when push comes to shove, inevitably choose their own self-interest instead of doing the right thing, why should any of us be surprised that most citizens will make the same choice?
It’s said that, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Of course that’s true, but what you do in the face of evil determines whether you’re a good man or not. You can talk the talk and even walk the walk but it takes far more courage and strength to do the right thing in spite of personal risk.
Ben Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I couldn’t agree more but I would add that those who would give up their morals for personal gain deserve neither moral treatment nor personal gain.
The next time you’re blogging, posting, or Tweeting about some cause that’s captured your interest, ask yourself what you would truly sacrifice in the name of that cause. Be honest. If the answer is little more than words – if you would not sacrifice your own self-interest to do what’s right – you’re not really helping, just feeding your ego.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.