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 avoidance trigger intrudes, it’s hard to follow desire with action, even if the goal is huge, the action critical, and the rewards big. In these moments, we need Courage. Courage is something that is learned, not instilled in us, but rather developed over time.
“Whether you are a man or a woman, you will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the highest quality of the mind after honor.-James Allen
Too often we think of courage in modern life that requires a one-time heroism or a large-scale call to duty, such as in rescue and war situations. Of course, in war humans sometimes fight because they’re ashamed not to. For courage to be authentic, one must face fear and prove superior to fear through right action.
afraid of what? More directly, physical courage exists in the face of bodily harm or death. In other words, physical courage is shown by acting regardless of fear for one’s life or livelihood. We need a different kind of courage than physical courage We have a daily basis. Leadership character requires moral courage: become a better leader; stand up for what is right when we are alone; doing the right thing despite disapproval or negative peer pressure; or take risks in our quest to achieve what is important. These require Courage: without it we go nowhere, achieve little, have no meaning, and have much regret. Courage is the basis of every other virtue.
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of each virtue at the test point.” –C.S. Lewis
Courage to act on our own history
The opportunity to develop Courage comes in the mundane story of our daily lives, where there are even small seeds of fear, where the danger is loss of integrity. In business and in our everyday lives, Courage is rarely impulsive, but rather the result of 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. The story of a leader 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. Entrepreneurial courage is not so much an innate characteristic of a visionary leader as a skill acquired through decision-making processes that improve with practice”. –Kathleen K. Reardon, courage as skill Harvard Business Review, January 2007.
virtue at cost
Courage is not the only virtue. Value starts things off: it is a precursor to Faith, Love, Change, Persistence, Authenticity, Trust, Service, and every other value. CS 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 comes at a cost, a price we are afraid to pay.
Without courage we do not get to work on what is important; we do not take the right action; we live in fear of the consequences of virtue. Every day we are faced with decisions that start, stop, or sustain our pattern of courage-life. Courage is Cupid’s arrow for everything you truly want to have, do, create, or become, no matter how mundane or wonderful the rewards.
Courage can only exist through virtuous action. Another type 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 capable of serving evil.
US Senator John McCain said that “without courage we are corruptible.” Without courage we can be admirers but not champions of virtue and character. There are times when we recognize that something needs to be done, and yet we know that if we take the right steps, 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 difficult. I will look for the easiest and least expensive option.”
Remorse is a terrible companion. Anyone can learn to live with pain. Anyone can learn to live with fear, shame, ridicule, and separation. We can learn from failure. However, nothing will turn your gaze to a mirror more quickly than embarrassment. Remorse for inaction and regret for wrongdoing are more difficult to overcome; the cure for both is Courage. Courage leads to the right action. The right action requires courage. It takes courage to admit a mistake, and even 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 a daring adventure or nothing.” –Helen Keller
Reflections to Inspire Personal Growth at 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 a responsible partner or hire a coach to help you build your courage and take these steps:
- What are some examples of Courage that I could demonstrate in my daily life at home and at work?
- The value is the form of any other virtue at the test point. Courage requires proof of conviction. How would my life be different if, starting today, I got tested every day?
- What does the phrase “Valueless we are corruptible” mean?
- Think about a specific problem you are facing or a goal you want to achieve. What would be its cause and cost? What are the real or perceived risks? What could be preventing you from taking action?
- Can you think of a time when you risked your self-interest for something bigger? What was it? How did you feel then? How has it shaped you?
- The next opportunity I get to risk my self-interest for something greater, will I recognize it? I’ll be ready? How do I know?
- Who do I “pretend” to be? What specific right actions will put me on the narrow path of integrity?
- Is my remorse for the lack of action greater than my fear of the consequences of the action?