The Power That Makes Courage Hard

I don't like using the word 'courage' often. It strikes me as kind of cheesy, a little dramatic. But the reality is that sometimes the world is serious, and 'courage' finds it's appropriateness in use and practice. 

Let's take Facebook's recently uncovered history of user privacy mistakes. In this case, we see a stunning example of where dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of people had the opportunity to act and ask a courageous question - "is this a good idea?", "is this what users understand is happening?". Speaking out against 'the mob', the 'structure', and 'the plan' is hard. 

In two weeks, HBO's Paterno airs to tell the story of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. It's a story that in-part demonstrates the courage of abuse victims speaking out, but also an example of where a bit more courage by others, sooner, could have prevented a lot of terrible things. Why didn't they?

When there are social structures that penalize people for speaking up, it requires a lot of courage to act. A lot of times it's going to feel like you're raising a concern prematurely. These structures are most often imagined, but even when that's the case, it doesn't make it much easier. Sizing-up a situation that might require courage before it's considered 'a problem' is also tough to identify because it's almost always hidden in what seem to be well-meaning and low-stake actions. 

But consistent actions across a set of people, no matter how well meaning and seemingly low-stake, self-organize. They self-organize into what we call culture. And culture is powerful.