Many moons ago, I was a boy in the Boys’ Brigade. For the un-initiated, the Boys’ Brigade is an organisation for boys, where they learn a bunch of skills, have a stack of fun and get molded into men. Think Scouts, except with a big Christian element. As with many kindred organisations, children and teenagers complete tasks, learn skills, go camping, do community service and undertake leadership training. As these skills are learned, the boys earn different badges, gain promotions and are elevated in status in their local company.
One such award was the ‘Diploma of Gallant Conduct’. It was awarded in very rare situations, when a boy had some something amazingly gallant. When they had put their life at risk to save another. It was awarded for an episodic act of gallantry.
Gallantry is a seldom used word these days. Many correctly associate it with battlefield valor, when a soldier puts his life even more in harms way to save his comrades. If you have not read why Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith was awarded his Victoria Cross and Medal of Gallantry, do yourself a favor and read about this extraordinary individual.
When we think of gallantry and brave acts, it’s hard not to think of the stories of Rosa Parks and Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.
Rosa Parks was made famous in 1955 for refusing to sit in the back of the bus, in defiance of local segregation laws. Many know Parks for this single act of defiance. What many people don’t know is that Parks had been active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the best part of 20 years, organising a range of protests, resistance and stands against the racist policies of Alabama at that time.
Similarly, Dr Martin Luther King is most famous for his ‘I have a dream‘ speech and the March on Washington. Dr King’s speech was not a one-off, nor was it a flash of brilliance. Dr King started his early adulthood as a church Pastor, faithfully ministering to his church in Montgomery, Alabama. He did this in the face of huge oppression, racism and violence. His Ï have a dream speech was not a one off. It was a crescendo of many years of preaching to the flock.
Why do I relay these two stories? It’s easy to fantasize about greatness. About the one to stand up in times of adversity, to save the life, to stem the tide. Those things are great to think about, but an act of greatness doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Roberts-Smith, Parks and Dr King’s moments of greatness happened because of many years of humility, training, learning, practicing, studying, pain and unthankful moments. Roberts-Smith had done a number of tours of duty before being awarded his military honours. He faced multiple instances of being under enemy fire, of being outgunned, surrounded, ambushed. He faced multiple instances of showing bravery and gallantry.
Rosa Parks spent over twenty years organising for NAACP, showing a tremendous amount of tenacity before her 1955 act of defiance. It was, for her, an exclamation mark in pages of pages of dialogue of resistance.
Dr Martin Luther King preached for many years to a small congregation of oppressed African-Americans in one of the most segregated cities in America. He lead many small instances of nonviolent resistance, speaking up against racism and segregation and tending his flock before he lead the March to Washington and delivering I have a dream.
We dream of being the hero of the moment, the one that saves. I’ve found the people that rise during those situations are already practicing gallantry. They are the people who, in their own quiet way, are speaking out against oppression. They are the ones who are already speaking for those who don’t have a voice. They are those who are already tending the wounded, being the bridge between the haves, and the have-nots. They aren’t the internet activists or the cause likers. They aren’t those who seem and not do. They are the people who are already teaching the refugee English. They are the ones who open up their home to the woman who’s partner has beat them. They are the one who ladles the soup to the homeless. The gallant, I believe, are those who practice way before they preach.
There’s a flip side to this, too. A flip side that points the finger at me and challenges me, perhaps more than anything. If gallantry flows from a lifetime of sacrifice, what is the opposite? I’m talking to myself here, when I wonder what the sum total of my life choices will be? Those times when I should have stood up for the defenseless, spoken up for those without a voice, fed those who need a meal, listened to those who just needed an ear to chew. What am I doing now to practice gallantry? What is my mission in life, and what am I doing to practice gallantry in it, ready for that moment when it will all be tested.
What are you doing to practice gallantry? What are the small things you are doing today? Are there scriptures you could be reading now to prepare yourself for when your faith is tested? Do you need to be braver with your family and step up to the mark as a husband or father? Do you need to be the one at work who stands against unsafe or unethical practices?
Gallantry isn’t a one off act. It’s the natural instinct of those who have practiced in life what they don’t need to preach.
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