Being a Courageous Stoic
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
“Sometimes, even to live is an act of courage” - Seneca
Courage is a universally admired virtue throughout most, if not all cultures. Many stories like that of Hercules of the Greeks, Quetzalcoatl from the Mayan/Aztecs, Thor from the Norse Mythos, and even Jesus from the Judeo Christian religion. They all display many feats of fortitude.
The stoics and many other people claim that courage is the most important virtue since you need courage to ensure all other virtues are upheld. Courage is a virtue when choosing to do good, especially when that is most difficult. Courage most demands our respect when it incurs risk without selfish motivation. It is moral strength in the face of danger. Lastly, courage is most virtuous when it is combined with knowledge, wisdom, and opinion.
In today’s podcast, we are going to detail the importance of courage and why the Stoics outlined this virtue to be necessary to live well past their time on earth.
The Stoics believed a courageous person understands danger, and choses to overcome their fear and proceed to face the danger and act according to their values. Courage is in no way represented by 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. The discipline to act on wise-chosen values rather than an impulse. Courage is subdivided into endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness and can be manifested with the following:
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 perfect example 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.
To a modern Stoic, 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. Courage is the fuel that gives the oppressed the power to stand up against the unjust. Courage gives even the most crushed, maltreated, and abused people the potential competence to make a change in the world. Courage lets one practice peace, kindness, and work for freedom.
We must remember again that 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.
We all want to be more courageous and while I listed a few in the earlier in the podcast we can identify a few things that we can do as modern stoics to grow more courageous.
So, obviously, without risking imprisonment or making headlines, you can exercise the virtue of courage every day by:
Being impeccable with your word,
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.
Be willing to speak truth to power to right a wrong.
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.
After hearing all of these examples and details, I hope you all realize that we do act courageously fairly often. I have also spent a lot of time on the idea of doing the right thing, but I also want to touch on a very important topic.
Being wrong. You see, as I’ve mentioned already, courage is a virtue best utilized when combined with knowledge, wisdom and opinion. But what if you don't have enough knowledge in the moment where courage is needed? What if we act courageously on unwise decisions? What if our opinions are wrong? Well, that's ok, because to truly be courageous, we must also accept that we can be wrong at times. It takes courage to accept when we don't know all the answers, when we are proven wrong. When we act on false information. We are truly courageous when we can also accept the pains inflicted on our egos, and instead of trying to courageously protect the falsehoods, you can be open to gaining new knowledge.