Virtues/Courage

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Introduction:[edit]

Courage is the resolve to act virtuously, especially when it is most difficult. It is acting for the good, when it would be much easier not to this time.

A courageous person understands danger, and chooses to overcome their fear and proceed to face the danger and act according to their values. It is not fearlessness, recklessness, or rashness. It is a well-considered, wise, and brave decision to behave constructively despite the fear, discomfort, or temptation. Courage is a strength drawn from a wise balance between the weaknesses of cowardice and recklessness. It is the discipline to act on wisely-chosen values rather than an impulse.[1]

Courage may be manifest as:

  • Valor and bravery - Often called physical courage.
  • Perseverance, industry, or diligence - often called endurance.
  • Integrity, genuineness, or honesty - often called moral courage.

Aristotle believed that the epitome of courage is facing noble death at the hands of the enemy during your offensive attack in a just war for the people. Demonstrating physical prowess, overcoming fear—especially fear of death, and launching an attack or an offensive effort are often considered the hallmarks of courage.[2]

Sometimes the most difficult obstacles we face are fatigue, boredom, and other chronic stressors such as relentless bad weather, lack of food or shelter, disrespect, uncertainty, and other annoyances and difficulties. Enduring in the face of these obstacles requires courage.

Ordinary people courageously persevere over fatigue, temptation, and hardship to benefit others. The single mother who gets her children dressed for school each day before she goes to work herself, the unskilled worker who endures a low-paying, demeaning, and exhausting job to earn the money to send his children off to college, and the alcoholic who never indulges in a drink are all choosing to do the right thing despite the hardships.

In the nineteenth century Henry Sidgwick first defined moral courage as: “facing the pains and dangers of social disapproval in the performance of what they believe to be duty.” The moral hero often overcomes shame and humiliation, rejects conformity, risks ostracism, jeopardizes career and status, and sets out alone to take an unpopular stand and do the right thing. Moral courage is choosing to risk embarrassment rather than tolerate injustice.

Examples of moral courage include:

  • Women's suffrage activist Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested seven times before women gained the right to vote in the United States,
  • The December 1, 1955 refusal of 42-year-old Rosa Parks to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. She was arrested and unlike previous individual actions of civil disobedience, Parks' action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  • And moral courage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and the “tank man” who stopped a line of tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 are all legendary examples.

The Virtue of Courage[edit]

Because courage allows us to act on our values rather than our impulses, its virtue has long been recognized.

Courage is one of the four classic western cardinal virtues. Aristotle recognized courage as the virtue at the mean between rashness and cowardice. Courage requires moderation. The risks incurred must be in proportion to the ends sought.[3]

But acting in the face of fear is morally neutral. Executing a daring bank heist requires bravery, but is morally reprehensible. Bravery can be demonstrated in the name of good or evil. Courage is a virtue when we choose to do good, especially when that is most difficult. Courage most demands our respect when it incurs risk without selfish motivation. Courage is moral strength in the face of danger.[4]

Courage is most virtuous when it is combined with knowledge, wisdom, and opinion. All of the virtues are interdependent, and they all depend on courage.[5]

Everyday Courage[edit]

Without risking imprisonment or making headlines, you can exercise the virtue of courage every day by:

  • Being impeccable with your word,[6]
  • Doing your best,
  • Acting on your well-chosen values; exercising the virtues.
  • Demonstrating commitment to a good cause through your active participation,
  • Refusing the temptation to comply with, assist with, or ignore: dishonest, unfair, coercive, cruel, bigoted, wasteful, or deceptive words or practices encountered during your everyday activities.
  • Doing the right thing when faced with defining moments in our lives, and every day. Don't accept bribes, cheat on your taxes, or pad your expense vouchers.
  • Courageously overcoming or at least controlling addictions.

Assignment[edit]

  • Read this essay on courage.
  • Recall a time when you knew the right thing to do, it was difficult, yet you found the resolve to do the right thing. Describe the internal struggle and dialogue that allowed your values to prevail over your fears or other difficulties.
  • Recall another time when you knew the right thing to do, it was difficult, and you did not get it done. Describe the internal struggle and dialogue that allowed you to subordinate your values in the face of fears or other difficulties.

References[edit]

  1. Miller, William Ian (2002). The Mystery of Courage. Harvard University Press. pp. 360. ISBN 978-0674008267. 
  2. Miller, William Ian (2002). The Mystery of Courage. Harvard University Press. pp. 360. ISBN 978-0674008267. 
  3. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  4. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  5. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  6. Ruiz, Don Miguel (1997). The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. Amber-Allen Publishing. pp. 138. ISBN 978-1878424310. 

Further Reading:[edit]

Students interested in learning more about courage may be interested in the following materials:

  • Miller, William Ian (2002). The Mystery of Courage. Harvard University Press. pp. 360. ISBN 978-0674008267. 
  • Warrell, Margie (2008). Find Your Courage: 12 Acts for Becoming Fearless at Work and in Life. McGraw-Hill. pp. 304. ISBN 978-0071605373. 
  • The emotional competency essay on courage