Mots justes

Francis Gardom on 'the courage of my convictions'

The words 'Courage' and 'Conviction' have a favourable ring. We admire courage, whilst deploring the lack of convictions (in the sense of'being convinced') displayed by our fellow beings.

Whilst it's often laudable to put one's convictions courageously into practice, in practice it can equally often prove disastrous.

Take the example of Oliver Cromwell's religious convictions which led to the massacre after the Siege of Drogheda in 1649. He admitted that, 'in the heat of the action, [I] forbade them [his soldiers] to spare any that were in arms in the town,' and justified this command by saying that such severity would 'discourage future resistance and save further loss of life;' whilst describing the resulting slaughter as 'the righteous judgement of God on these barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands with so much innocent blood.'

In Cromwell's case 'the courage of his convictions' was not a reliable guide to the right course of action. It left a permanent scar on Anglo-Irish relations which persists to this day.

Sadly 'my convictions' often means 'the way I have become accustomed to thinking about something but which I have not examined critically for donkey's years.' They may be no more than knee-jerk attitudes which we adopted uncritically many years back. 

Thence it's only a short step to those convictions becoming our 'darlings'. Anyone daring to challenge them is seen to be stretching forth his hand towards the apple of our eye. So it is no bad thing periodically to examine our convictions by metaphorically taking them down from their shelves and giving them a good dusting.

We are often reluctant to do this, because, over time, such convictions have become so much part of ourselves that we are reluctant to expose them to public scrutiny lest they might prove to be misguided.

Before giving full throttle to 'the courage of our convictions' we should recall that other mot juste of Oliver Cromwell to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland: T beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.'

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