Previously in our series on wisdom and the virtues we discussed that wisdom was ‘the ability to deliberate well about which courses of action would be good and expedient’, we learnt that as we cultivate each of the virtues, we would develop the practical wisdom that enables us to identify what course of action at what time would promote the welfare of our families and, just as importantly, would empower us to take the necessary actions. Honour is the first of the virtues being as we describe in the code Chapter 25 ‘the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right’ forming as it is taken to heart a conception of the idealised self, who we should seek to be by aligning our actions and thoughts to the purpose of life. In this post, we will be exploring the second of the virtues, 'Courage'.
Courage forms the second of the virtues being as Aristotle describes it in his ethics, “The virtue of action in the face of danger that is guided by wisdom being proportionate to the situation sitting between recklessness and cowardice”. Courage is essential to those of us who seek the achievement of the purpose of life through the promotion of the welfare of our families and communities, as without courage, we would be incapable of making any decisions or making any move where there was resistance or risk.
For us who dare to walk a different path from the normal, placing as our good the welfare of our family, and by extension, the welfare of our community, courage is essential. In a society when the media, businesses, and even our friends are earnestly promoting ideas that are harmful, it takes great courage to stand up and refute those ideas. When everyone agrees that the truth is false, it takes tremendous courage to dare to disagree. When you decide to change jobs and pursue a new opportunity, it takes courage to jump from the familiar to the unexpected.
Even internally, courage is essential. If one day your beliefs are shaken, it takes courage to face the flaw you have discovered and risk the collapse of your beliefs. It takes courage to tell your family that you have decided to follow a new path. In all these cases, if we know what is right and seek to do that which we know is right as honour demands of us, only courage can give us the strength to act.
However, it must be emphasised that the courageous person is not reckless. They do not act without exercising wisdom or considering the consequences of their actions. But nor do they refrain from acting at all due to the existence of danger. Rather, they take the middle path between recklessness and cowardice. This is a hard road to walk as the greater the danger, the narrower the path becomes.
If the world champions what is wrong and condemns what is right or pronounces what is true to be false, it can be dangerous to disagree. Those who speak too frankly can lose their jobs, their friends, and sometimes even their lives. In these cases, to throw caution to the wind and speak out publicly is reckless, yet to remain silent is cowardice. Or in other words, to act too boldly can harm your family due to the response of those with power who you are daring to challenge. While to do nothing will harm your family as the false ideas take root. It seems like a catch 22. But courage informed by wisdom offers a middle path.
Instead of recklessly challenging the powers that be publicly when you lack the strength to prevail, fight the war carefully and quietly in private. Convince one person of the truth and then another. Slowly but surely, the truth will spread, and the power of your enemies will be eroded until, one day, they can simply be ignored. This was the case with the Soviet Union, it was not brought down by military force or armed insurrection, it and the dehumanising communist system on which it was built was destroyed piece by piece by the little acts of defiance of good people. Those people who recognised the harm the supposedly utopian system was doing to their families fought the system not by standing up in public (for which they would have been arrested), but by talking quietly to people, sharing banned books, newspapers, music and videos. In the end, the truth that had been denied came out and a system that had killed more than fifteen million of its own people (Conquest, 2007) fell apart without bloodshed.
That is the tremendous power of courage. While courage recognises the reality of power and necessity, it also does not allow what is right to be subjugated by what is wrong. If you cannot speak the truth, courage bids you to whisper it. Perhaps where you work or live you hear those with power, such as the managers or the politicians preaching the abhorrent language of division and difference. Perhaps you, like so many I know, wish to stand against this evil yet are afraid of losing your job, not getting that promotion or being punished in some other way. Do not let cowardice win, courage guided by wisdom will show you the way to fight and to win.
Perhaps you have doubts about your faith, or even just want to start a new career or project. Be courageous and carefully consider what is right, i.e., what promotes the welfare of your family. Once you have determined what is right, figure out how you can do what needs to be done. Because in essence, courage is the virtue of having the ability to do what has to be done coupled with the wisdom of doing it in the right way.
Join us next time as we discuss the virtue of honesty.
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