Suffering For Righteousness Marks You As A Man

We used to talk about things that “separated the men from the boys.” And however poorly the phrase may have been used, it had a legitimate point: It’s one thing to be male, it’s quite another to be a proper man.

The same obviously applies to women: It’s one thing to be female and quite another to be a proper woman. 

But on whichever side of the biological divide you find yourself, it’s suffering for what you believe in that confirms you as legitimate, solid adult… as someone to be taken seriously.

Either You Haven’t Or You Have

There are all sorts of ways to make a show of being a legitimate adult: You can be a frightening brute, you can display your intellectual prowess, you can hold up your wealth, status or beauty, or you can threaten others with power that stands ready to avenge you. But none of those things make you a real man or a real woman. Generally they show the opposite. 

To be specific, we’re not talking about just any kind of suffering; after all, everyone suffers. what we’re talking about is to suffer because of your personal, moral devotion to something. That kind of suffering shows there is solid ground in your soul. 

So, either you’ve taken a principled risk, suffered for it, and held your position; or else the rest of us can’t be sure of you: Either you’ve suffered for something you thought was right, or you haven’t.

Let me restate that for clarity:

Until you’ve suffered for righteousness, there’s no incontestable reason for the rest of us to take you as a serious adult.

And more than that, you have to suffer as an individual: You have to face personal consequences, not collective consequences. Until you do, the rest of us have no way of being sure. Going along with a group, even a minority group, is not the same thing as making a costly individual choice, and until that happens, the rest of us lack a reason to trust you as an individual.

Being Right Isn’t Exactly The Point

It may seem that being right is a necessity here, but that’s not actually the case. The core of this is having the strength to do what you believe is the right thing, in the face of contrary power.

If, believing yourself to be right, you make a hard choice and suffer for it, you’ve shown yourself to be a man or woman, even if you later learn that you were mistaken. What needs to be demonstrated is an honest and strong soul, not factual precision. The best explanation of this I know came from Thomas Jefferson:

Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision.

It’s the uprightness and courage of what you do that matters. Your uprightness is the fundamental, not your rightness.

The truth, of course, is that people willing to suffer for righteousness are far more likely to be right than those who follow the crowd, but that’s not the core issue.

What Was Your Rite of Passage?

Suffering for righteousness is a rite of passage… a marker… and we need these; not only to prove things to others, but to prove them to ourselves. In other words, you need to know that you’ve done the hard things, suffered for them and stood to the challenge. Yes, other people need to see that in us, but we also need to see it in ourselves.

Markers of passage are necessary. They have to be hard; they have to cost you in some significant way. In a perfect world things might be different, but this isn’t a perfect world. If you can’t think of your own passages, you had better start taking the question seriously.

Being a non-conformist comes with a price attached, but paying it transforms us into something more. It’s a price we all need to pay, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

Suffering is not a virtue of itself, but suffering for righteousness illuminates the fact that we are more than placeholders… that we are upright men and women, to be taken seriously.


Paul Rosenberg

2 thoughts on “Suffering For Righteousness Marks You As A Man”

  1. This is so well-stated. I regularly use this principle as a measure of who has skin in the game versus those who don’t. Individuals who have suffered for following their conscience garner far greater credibility than their critics who are cat-calling from safety of the sidelines.

Comments are closed.