Thoughts on Courage


“To do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time,

with the right motive, and in the right way,

that is not for every one nor is it easy”

(Aristotle on Courage, Ethics II.9)

My last post listed virtues that I would like to focus on making more habitual this year. The first of these is courage. Right now I’m taking a college class that studies current legal issues. We have started by discussing the horrific crimes at Sandy Hook elementary. It is hard to study such a tragedy. It is the kind of situation that makes you question everything. And yet, in the midst of such inconceivable horror, the courage of those teachers was stunning. That kind of courage is required infrequently which contributes to how noble it is. Yet, I’d still like to be aspirational enough to look for little ways in my daily life I can be more habitual about courage. Here are what some famous people have said about it…

Ernest Hemingway famously defined courage as “grace under pressure.”

According to Maya Angelou:
Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.

Or this insight from Winston Churchill:
Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities … because it is the quality that guarantees all others.

J.R.R. Tolkien identified a ‘theory of courage'”—the heroic or “virtuous pagan” insistence to do the right thing even in the face of certain defeat without promise of reward or salvation.

For Aristotle, to be courageous is the consequence of a careful calculation about what good is being sought in a troubling dilemma and the course of action that best resolves the conflicting values manifesting themselves in that dilemma. The virtuous thing to do then is not to act courageously as if there exists only one courageous way to act. Rather, acting courageously requires balancing the oftentimes conflicting and sometimes contradicting aspects of courage—fear and confidence—enacting the most appropriate mean.

Here’s to facing this week with courage!

GO with love.

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