Courage — Noun; conscious self-sacrifice in pursuit of something greater than one’s own self-interest.
People are basically goal-oriented, seeking to satisfy wants and needs. But when pain or fear or any trigger of avoidance intrude, it is difficult to follow desire with action — even if the goal is very important, the action critical and the rewards great. At these times, we need Courage. Courage is a learned thing, not borne into us but developed over time.
“Whether you be man or woman you will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” — James Allen
We too often think of courage in modern life requiring unique heroism or call to duty on a grand scale, such as in situations of rescue and war. Of course, in war humans sometimes fight because they are embarrassed not to. For courage to be authentic, one must encounter fear and prove superior to the fear through right action.
Fear of what? Most directly, physical courage exists in the face of bodily harm or death. In other words, physical courage is demonstrated by acting regardless of fear for one’s life or livelihood. We need a different kind of courage than physical courage on a daily basis. Leadership character requires moral courage: to become a better leader; to stand up for what is right when we stand alone; to do what is right despite disapproval or negative peer pressure; or to take risks in our quest to achieve what is important. These take Courage — without it we go nowhere, accomplish little, lack meaning and regret much. Courage is the primer for any other virtue.
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” — C.S. Lewis
Courage to act in our own story
The opportunity to develop Courage occurs in the mundane story of our daily living where even tiny seeds of fear exist, where the danger is loss of integrity. In business and in our everyday life, Courage is rarely impulsive but results from self-conditioning — a history of calculated bold moves based on firm convictions. The best leaders develop courage consciously, deliberately, over time, and it shows in their actions. A leader’s story is a story of courage.
“People who become good leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, but they strengthen their chances of success — and avoid career suicide — through careful deliberation and preparation. Business courage is not so much a visionary leader’s inborn characteristic as a skill acquired through decision-making processes that improve with practice.” — Kathleen K. Reardon, Courage as a Skill, Harvard Business Review, January 2007.
Virtue at a cost
Courage is not the only virtue. Courage begins things: it is a precursor for Faith, Love, Change, Persistence, Authenticity, Trust, Service and every other value. C. S. Lewis once said that the virtue of courage is a prerequisite for the practice of all other virtues. In other words, one is virtuous only when virtue has a cost, a price we are fearful to pay.
Without courage we do not get started on what is important; we do not take right action; we live in fear of the consequences of virtue. Every day we face decisions that begin, interrupt or sustain our courage-life pattern. Courage is your cupid’s arrow for everything you really want to have, to do, to create, or to become, no matter how mundane or how wonderful the rewards.
Courage can only exist through virtuous action. Another kind of courage is shown in a bad cause because it does not intend a moral effect and demonstrates vice over virtue. [Think of the 9/11 hijackers or any act of terrorism] More than any other human trait, courage seems to be quite capable to serve wrongdoing.
U.S. Senator John McCain said that “without courage we are corruptible.” Without courage we may be admirers but not champions of virtue and character. There are times when we recognize something needs to be done, and yet we know that if we step up to right action, we will pay a heavy personal price. Courage is the virtue that makes us willing to pay that price; cowardice makes us say, “The price is too high; I will not pay it. It is too hard. I will seek the easier, less costly choice.”
Remorse makes a dreadful companion. Anyone can learn to live with pain. Anyone can learn to live with fear, embarrassment, ridicule and separation. We can learn from failure. Yet nothing will divert your gaze into a mirror more quickly than shame. Remorse for inaction and regret for wrong action is more difficult to overcome; the cure for both is Courage. Courage leads to right action. Right action requires courage. It takes courage to admit a mistake, still more to make amends. No matter what the consequence of noble Courage, it is never worse than the discovery that you are less than you pretend to be.
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” — Helen Keller
Reflections to inspire personal growth in Courage (with your learning partner)
How would your life be different if you had more courage? What can you do daily to increase your courage? What is your personal code of ethics; what must you change to demonstrate them more fully? Find an accountability partner or hire a coach to help to help you develop your courage and take these actions:
- What are some examples of Courage that I could demonstrate in my daily life at home and at work?
- Courage is the form of every other virtue at the testing point. Courage requires a test of conviction. How would my life be different if, beginning today, I took the test daily?
- What does the phrase mean, “Without courage we are corruptible?”
- Think of a specific issue you face or a goal you want to achieve. What would be your cause and cost? What are the real or perceived risks? What might be keeping you from taking action?
- Can you think of a time when you risked your own self-interest for something greater? What was it? How did you feel then? How has it shaped you?
- The next opportunity I have to risk self-interest for something greater, will I recognize it? Will I be ready? How I you know?
- Who do I “pretend” to be? What specific right actions will put me on the narrow path of integrity?
- Is my remorse for non-action greater than my fear of consequence for action?