The moral endurance necessary to stand on principle, regardless of the cost, is not a natural inclination for most of us. Our protective instincts incline us to compromise, to hedge, or to fudge. When push comes to shove most of us would rather waffle, wiggle, and waver than risk the wrath and ire of uncompromising conviction. Steadfastness in the face of adversity, opposition, or persecution must be nurtured, developed, and encouraged every step along the way:
1. Establish your convictions on the foundation of clear-eyed vision. Vision is the ability to beyond the constraints of present circumstances to the possibilities of the future. It is the hunger to see was is in terms of what ought to be. It is the passion to live life beyond the limits imposed by the tyranny of the urgent. We live in a pragmatic time of expediency, practicality, and sensibility—as a result, the cause of the visionary is all too often seen as little more than a lost cause. Throughout the ages however, wise men and women have seen vision for what it is: the hope of the future, the mainspring of progress, and the provocation for success. It has always been the basis for genuine persistence and passion. It is not possible to be indifferent and to remain steadfast. As Samuel Johnson said, “Indifference in questions of importance is no amiable quality.” It is also no enduring quality. In order to take a stand, we have to stand for something. In order to hold on, we have to hold on to something tangible, substantive, and palpable.
2. Differentiate true principle from mere preference. A principle upon which we stake everything we are and everything we do cannot simply be a matter of penchant, prejudice, or preference. It can’t simply be a matter of taste or style. It must be rooted in unchanging ideas and unchangeable ideals. It must take the form of an absolute. It must be part and parcel with our sense of calling, of duty, or responsibility, and of destiny. According to Samuel Johnson, “The future is purchased at the price of vision in the present.” Thus, we need to make certain that the things we stand for are really worth standing for—much is at stake.
3. Pick your battles. Not everything is worth fighting for. Not every hill is worth dying on. Not every cause is equally worthy of our involvement. We should not feel compelled to stake our lives, honors, and fortunes on every struggle that comes along. According to the great Civil War strategist, Stonewall Jackson, “Picking where and when to fight is almost more important than picking who to fight.” We need to know that a particular battle is worth waging in the first place—but also, what the most appropriate time and place might be in order to engage in it. We must be wise as serpents as well as innocent as doves. We must be good strategists. Sometimes, of course, our battles pick us. We don’t always have the luxury of scheduling sickness or adversity. But even when the battles come unbidden, we have a whole host of choices. And our ability to persevere in the midst of the raging storm is often dependent on our discernment about what matters most—and when it matters most.
4. Know that you may lose a battle. To lose a battle is not to say that you were necessarily wrong to undertake it in the first place. Sometimes lost causes are precisely the right causes. If we measure principle by pragmatism, then our principles are more than a little hollow. “Any coward can fight a battle when he’s sure of winning,” George Eliot once said, “but give me the man who has the pluck to fight when he’s sure of losing. That’s my way, sir; and there are many victories worse than a defeat.” Standing by your principles is actually reward enough in and of itself. If turns of events justify your confidence and confirm your conviction with success, then all the better. But it is far more preferable to take a stand for that which is right even in defeat, than to compromise the things that matter most even if in triumph.
Tenacity is an essential pro-life virtue. Indeed, it is an essential Biblical virtue in the midst of this poor fallen world.