This past weekend Kathi's sister and her daughter came to visit, and we took a trip down to Springfield to see the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. That evening when we got home, we rented and watched the movie, Lincoln. (I recommend both the museum and the movie highly, if you haven't experienced either of them—or even if you have!) So for pretty much the entire day, we were immersed in the experience of Lincoln's life. It all lead to some rather spirited and inspiring conversation and contemplation for all of us.
One of the major challenges of Lincoln's presidency, perhaps even more important than the Emancipation Proclamation or winning the war, was getting the 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed in Congress, officially ending slavery. Lincoln had to pull out all the stops, in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition, from both those in favor of slavery, as well as the abolitionists, in order to influence enough Congressmen to vote for the bill to get it passed. We now think of Lincoln as one of the greatest Presidents, but he wasn't seen that way until after his death! During his Presidency, his was criticized and ridiculed, and opposed more harshly than perhaps any other person of his day.
In our conversations we were expressing our amazement at his achievement and acknowledging Lincoln as a true hero. And we began to explore what it is that makes a hero. Heroism isn't just about bravery or conquering an opponent. It's about acting consistently on the highest sense of integrity and honesty. This is what Lincoln was able to do with unwavering focus, even in the face of circumstances that were heart-wrenchingly overwhelming and even devastating.
Any time that we act with integrity and honesty for what we sense as in the best interests of all involved, rather than taking the easy way out, it is an act of heroism. When we are willing to take this narrow path of what Joseph Campbell called "the hero's journey", all manner of circumstances often come to our aid. Even though Lincoln faced powerful opposition, through his unwavering dedication to the pursuit of justice, the perfect set of circumstances eventually came together to help him achieve his goal.
Even though we're normally not faced with such overwhelming odds, it can nonetheless be difficult to consistently act on what we know is right rather than opting for the easy choice. When we do, when we choose the heroism of service to others, there is real magic in play. In that sense heroism is simple but not necessarily easy. But we do always have this choice, and upon it we build our lives, for good or ill.