We can all stand up to a bully in the middle of the playground. We’re surrounded by others. People can watch us play the hero.
It’s harder to stand up to the same bully in the corner of the cloak room, where there’s no teachers or fellow students to be a witness to your virtue. When you know the result of your courage is going to be a knee in the stomach and psychological abuse.
It’s easy to do something when you know there’s a reward on the table. It doesn’t matter if the action is marginal or meaningful. Mix in an incentive and it is instantly easier. But when there’s no reward, no prize for a deed? That’s when we reveal what we truly believe and value.
If you continue on this line of thought, you realise that an action only has weight when it is goes against the interest of the doer. If one of the consequences is pain and suffering, then you know that that person cares deeply about the sanctity of the principle behind the action.
But since such deeds are, by definition, undertaken alone and out of sight of a viewing public, it’s hard to judge what others believe in and will fight for. But you can judge yourself. You can look back over your own life and see what you’ve endured amidst obscurity and why. Chances are, the things you’ve suffered in silence for are the things you most believe in.