Albert Bandura, an ardent anti-violence advocate, comments that some people “invest their sense of self-worth so strongly in humane convictions and social obligations that they act against what they regard as unjust or immoral even though their actions may incur heavy personal costs.” He uses the term “proactive moral agency” to describe such people. We use the term “moral engagement.”
Today, Memorial Day 2014, we memorialize a classic American example of proactive moral agency—a morally-engaged woman who spoke out against war when it was unpopular and even dangerous to do so.
Jeanette Rankin (1880-1973) was a lifelong pacifist and the first woman elected to the US Congress. She had the company of 49 other members of Congress when she exercised her humane convictions and social obligations by voting against US entry into World War I; the costs incurred included losing her seat in the House of Representatives.
In 1939, Jeanette ran again for Congress on a platform advocating American neutrality regarding the widening ravages of war in Europe. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, she was the only Congressperson to vote against entry into World War II. Among the costs she incurred for once again voting her conscience was the necessity to flee from an angry mob, hide in a phone booth, and call the Congressional police to come rescue her. Despite such close encounters of a threatening kind, she was not deterred from voicing her opposition to the Korean and Vietnam wars.
We do well to remember her messages: “Small use it will be to save democracy for the race if we cannot save the race for democracy” and “There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense.”
Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology