Monday Over Coffee: "At the Proving Point"

Published May 30, 2023 by Greg Funderburk

Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.
— C.S. Lewis

In a courtroom, one of the most effective arguments a lawyer can make to a jury is the old adage—actions speak louder than words. If the argument fits the fact pattern of the case, evidence, and testimony, this works almost every time because it simply rings true. Many a lawsuit, many a dispute, many a conflict come down to an issue of whether a person, an organization, or a company did what they said they were going to do or failed to do so.

Our actions, our behavior, what we actually do out in the world is really a language of its own—one that's far more powerful and expressive about who we are than what emerges from our mouths. This is to say that we human beings claim to hold all sorts of positions and beliefs on all manner of things. We say we adhere to this principle or that. We might aspire to this particular value or another. But whether we really believe in a particular ideal or not is, in some ultimate way, determined by our actions at a moment we might call their proving point?that moment of truth when courage is needed not just to say something, but to do something.

"Courage," C.S. Lewis wrote, "is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means at the point of highest reality." What Lewis was saying is that we can think, hope, and say all manner of things about ourselves, but we really don't know if they're true about us until we're tested. And that's where courage is required.

Let's consider this with some specifics. Perhaps we aspire to the value of punctuality. We want to be on time for things. We want to think of ourselves as that kind of person. The proving point for this—the point our aspiration to be punctual is tested is at the moment that we need to conjure up the wherewithal, the will, the courage, to drop what we were doing at the moment and get up, get ready, and go. Here's another one: Maybe we want to be thought of as a sportsmanlike person? Well, the testing point for sportsmanship is, of course, when it's hard to be sportsmanlike. Can we be magnanimous in victory over a bitter rival? Can we be gracious in defeat after a hotly contested game? If we can't summon up the courage to do that, then maybe this isn't a virtue we really possess.

Now, let's get a little more serious. Let's look at some other virtues and locate their proving points. Are we forbearing when someone is really irritating us? Are we tolerant of those with viewpoints with which we disagree or do we just claim we?re tolerant in a kind of free-floating way? To go a step further, are we tolerant of those whom we view as intolerant? Can we extend grace in those situations? Or perhaps, we claim to value free speech but fail to value this ideal with equal ardor when the person speaking isn't someone with whom we agree. If this is the case, then how would you really gauge our devotion to this idea? Do we criticize those with whom we disagree when they do something wrong but then defend those we agree with when they do something very similar? Or do we even see it? If this is the case, can we really claim to be the principled people we like to think we are?

Let's go even deeper into matters that bear on our faith. Are we kind and loving—not when it's easy and without real cost—but when it's hard and requires courage and will to do so? We all like to think of ourselves as honest, but until honesty might cost us something tangible, can we really claim we possess honesty and integrity? Are we merciful when we have the upper hand? Are we forgiving when someone has hurt us? Speaking for myself, sadly my actions often say more about me than my aspirational words when I arrive at these testing points.

In some ways, I think this is what Memorial Day is all about—courage at the testing point. We all hope and often say we're devoted to our ideals, our principles, our values, but at the point they were tested, those we honor and mourn on this day had the courage to prove it. And it's humbling that their actions speak louder than our words. 

God — Thank you for their courage. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk