Akavia testified on four laws [that he heard from his teachers]. [The Rabbis] said to him, "Akavia, change your rulings, and we will appoint you Chief Judge of the highest court in Israel." He responded, "It is better that I be considered a fool all my life rather than an unjust person for even one moment before God" (Eidiyos 5:6).
Yesterday, we discussed the virtue of flexibility and the fault of obstinacy. In the above quote from the Talmud, Akavia is praised for his refusal to yield. Can these two attributes be reconciled?
The distinction should be obvious. If Akavia had been championing his own opinion, he would gladly have considered cogent arguments by his colleagues and even deferred to them. However, the Talmud states that Akavia testified; i.e. he conveyed the rulings that he had heard from his teachers and that therefore carried their authority. However convincing the arguments of his colleagues may have been, he held that he could not override the rulings of his teachers.
Public opinion was obviously in favor of Akavia conceding to his colleagues and thereby being elevated to the highest court in the land, which was certainly an attractive position. Certainly, no one would have criticized Akavia had he changed his position. Still, Akavia stood firm and was willing to forego the coveted position of honor rather than compromise on his principles.
While flexibility in one's own opinion is commendable, firmness in adhering to principles is essential.