This great scene at the end of the film Dead Poets Society says a great deal about human nature. Yes, courage is rare. And although courage is contagious, fear and cowardice will still prevent many people from doing the right and noble thing at the right moment.
Take a close look at Ethan Hawk’s character Todd in this final scene. You will notice that even he must muster the courage to stand up alone for what is right. A single voice crying out for justice. Every member of the class is threatened with expulsion on the spot if there is “one more outburst.” But Todd, in spite of his fear, makes a decision to live with integrity and courage, so he stands atop his desk and exclaims, “O’Captain My Captain.” The new teacher orders him to sit down, but he refuses. He doesn’t budge, providing an example of courage and righteous indignation to his classmates. You can see the conflict on the face of the next student, understanding the consequences for rightfully disobeying the authority of the new teacher, as he musters his courage to join Todd. The next student sees the first two taking the lead and smiles as he stands up, feeling good about himself for his action– and then another student and another stand up. Despite there already being a half a dozen students standing on desks, you can still notice students fighting through fear as they do the right thing, honoring their mentor and teacher. Now, enough students are atop desks; some do it more easily than others– quickly stepping up, while others show conflicted looks, pushing themselves out of their chairs. Finally, look at the last few seconds of this scene. What do you notice? In a class of about twenty, half refuse to stand up.
You will never reach everyone. Some people will always allow fear, selfishness, and/or ignorance to get in the way of doing what is right and living with integrity. But if you have true courage, you will impact some people and you don’t know where the ripples end. One person can make a difference. Be the change you want to see!