Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter follows his inner voice directly into the heart of the heart of an issue. No matter your assessment of him as a president or your politics, he has the courage that others do not and he acts on it. His belief in human rights and his willingness to speak out about them are remarkable. Most recently, he spoke up for women around the world. He said the unthinkable. He addressed Christian and Islamic leaders assigning to them part of the responsibility for mistreatment of women around the world.
When he could have focused on the United States, glass ceilings, values unchanged, he took on the entire world, and yes, he took on the Catholic Church! His vision is clear. We can only imagine the awe, the sigh, and maybe even thunderous applause arising in convents where nuns, for centuries, have watched as men were given opportunities to minister that they have been denied. His point was that the barring of women from these positions has a social consequence. Even if women are valued, they are still less than men in the most sacred places.
“There is a great aversion among men leaders and some women leaders to admit that this is something that exists, that it’s serious and that it’s it troubling and should be addressed courageously,” Carter said.
If President Carter can take on the exclusive actions of leaders of major religious orders, we should be able to figure out how to take on the oppressive actions of our legislators and political appointees. He has maintained laser-like focus on human rights and has worked tirelessly to maintain alignment between his beliefs and his actions. He and his wife left their long time church because women were not allowed to serve as deacons. Her calling has been welcomed by another community. Yes, on the world stage and in their hometown, they are living a difficult choice...one calling for opening the privileged places, especially when those places purport to represent God’s work. This has integrity.
Integrity is a quality one possesses. Consistent actions and decisions cause others to believe we have integrity and to trust us. We can blame others for creating environments in which we lose our integrity but we know in our hearts when we are acting with it and when we are not. It is a choice. Sometimes, when we are acting without it, we ask others to validate our choice, seek alliances and authorities to be complicit. Our experience is that there are times when acting with integrity is unpopular, has risks to our careers or social standing and is lonely. Those moments call for courage. When courage is combined with integrity, all things become possible. With courage and integrity coexisting, there is no greater force for change.
Those in this country who have had to fight for the right to vote know this. In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment extended the right to vote to African American men. This was part of the series of amendments to the US Constitution that followed the Civil War. Though equality was promised, it is still an elusive dream for many. Inspired and shaken by the voices of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and others, suffrage was extended to women. Unfortunately, neither lived long enough to see the Nineteenth Amendment passed in 1920. It was the culmination of a struggle that took nearly a hundred years to be successful but relentless commitment, integrity and courage eventually broke the barrier. There were high costs paid by those who were out front on these civil rights movements but they were not deterred from principle held dearly.
It should be easier for us. So let’s take back our integrity. Each of us can figure out how, in each community, how to do what is required of us, while not accepting silence as a sign of compliance. Influential voices are needed, no matter the cause. Do not waste them on trivia lest their power will be tossed to the wind. Take a lesson from Carter, live the conviction and speak out at the right time. Around the world, and yes, even in our United States, women still have a long way to go and we need to resolve these issues side by side, women and men of courage and integrity. Change does come.
This is a moment when differences of all types can melt away and we come together as an educational community without bearing bias. We can be part of a movement away from the serious social consequences of holding any group of people back. There exists potential in every human being. We need strength and loud and influential voices now. We need to come together and lead our schools through this perilous time. It is not a time for glass ceilings, or barriers of any kind. Should we choose to live and act with conviction and integrity regarding issues of equality and fairness, abandoning even the faintest hint of bias, we can be part of a social change that still needs our attention. Let’s allow the actions of Former President Carter to remind us that there is still work to be done.
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