Are You Willing to Pay for What You Believe?

There’s lots of talk about values today. We ask each other: “What are your core values? What are your beliefs? What are the ideals for excellence in your school or organization? What are the academic standards your students must achieve?”

We use this language because any worthwhile endeavor requires benchmarks to measure and determine whether we’ve attained our goal or not. Beliefs, values, and goals push us in a good direction. Without them, we’d just wander; or, even worse, we might be tempted to believe that ineffective work was effective.

What makes this kind of lifestyle challenging is—we also live in a day of tolerance and pluralism. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m fully convinced we need to respect diversity in people and values. I love that our kids are learning to accept varying perspectives. As that children’s song says, “Different is beautiful.” It’s good that we’ve moved forward in accepting lifestyles that, perhaps, do not fit the norm; or, people who are unique and ethnicities that are a minority. It’s just right.

I Want a Cause Without a Cost

The challenge is, when everything is “right,” we often don’t want to pay a price for our beliefs. On the one hand, we want to claim we have values, but few of us really want to make any sacrifices for them. We want it to be easy.

We see this illustrated all the time.

Recently, 1,300 students at Oberlin College signed a petition requesting that administrators abolish midterms and any grades below a C. Why? To accommodate their busy protest schedules. The students said that attending demonstrations against school injustices leaves little time to study. One student put it plainly, saying, “A lot of us started suffering academically.”

My response?

That may be the price you pay for your beliefs. If you feel strongly about those school injustices, then the price tag may be a lesser grade on your transcript. If you are not willing to pay that price, then go to class and make the grade. There’s a cost for every decision you make.

I am not implying the injustices those students protested are wrong. They may be spot on. Participating in demonstrations is often the right thing to do. It’s how we’ve made progress in civil rights, women’s rights, and almost every other human rights issue. But, alas, people in past times were willing to pay a price for what they believed in.

Today—we want to feel good about being involved in a just cause, but all we may want to do is sign a petition, or give one dollar, tweet something or post something on our Facebook page. Pardon me for saying it, but there’s not a large price tag for that. I don’t call that a huge sacrifice. Social media has made it easy to feel altruistic without much trouble. We want a cause without a cost.

Principles We Must Practice

As we work with students, it’s important we help them to see that true beliefs or values may come with a price tag. Let me outline some principles for you to talk over with your students:

1. The Taxi Cab Principle

There’s always a price tag when you hop into a cab. This is one of our Habitudes®. We must always find out how much the ride is going to cost before getting in. So it is with our beliefs. As much as possible, count the cost. Are we willing to pay it?

Question: Am I willing to make a sacrifice of time or energy for this belief?

2. The Trade-Off Principle

This is another Habitude. For every decision you make, there is a tradeoff you make as well. When you come to a fork in the road, the choice to go one direction means you give up the other. You can do anything, but not everything.

Question: Can I overcome FOMO: The Fear Of Missing Out?

3. The Pioneer Principle

The question here is—are you willing to go first? Are you willing to stand for something even if few others are doing it? Can you stand alone? It’s the difference between a pioneer and a settler. There’s no guarantees or insurance for pioneers.

Question: Am I willing to go solo or go first for my beliefs?

4. The Backbone Principle

True beliefs go beyond opinions or preferences. When I really believe in something, it’s not merely an emotional decision, it’s a volitional one. It’s born in our character and measured by our backbone not our bicep. Do I have the will to follow through?

Question: Do I embody my belief? Can I articulate it in a civil manner?

5. The Investment Principle

Just like a financial investment, beliefs are valuable when you’ve put a lot into them. When I invest blood, sweat and tears, I tend to stick with a commitment. If I invest 10,000 hours to be an “expert” in something, I won’t surrender easily. I’m all in.

Question: Am I willing to take many small, unglamorous steps for my beliefs?

Perhaps my son, Jonathan, summarized it best: “Beliefs aren’t convenient.”

Are You Willing to Pay for What You Believe?