Characteristic #18: Moral Courage

By | October 5, 2013

Courage WWII Omaha Beach Landing[October 5, 2013]  The photograph accompanying this article is famous in many respects.  It is a photo taken June 6, 1944 of the Omaha Beach landing during World War II.  It is used to symbolically represent courage.  More accurately it is symbolic of physical courage.  

Moral courage, on the other hand, is more difficult to show symbolically and is why I used this photograph. 

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. 

            – Edmund Burk, Irish orator, philosopher, and politician 

In this famous quote, Edmund Burk goes directly to the heart of the concept of a failure in moral courage. 

He is saying that evil in the world comes from ignorance or acts of omission, the failure to take action, the failure to observe, and perhaps even of good intentions – as much as it may come from willful evil. 

Moral Courage itself is the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences.  Courage is required to take action when one has doubts or fears about the consequences.  

Moral courage therefore involves deliberation or careful thought. 

Reflex action or dogmatic fanaticism does not involve moral courage because such impulsive actions are not based upon moral reasoning.  However, moral courage may require physical courage when the consequence is punishment or other bodily peril. 

Moral courage can be exceedingly difficult as a behavior.  We take pride in the witness of people who display moral courage. 

Demonstration of true moral courage in the face of adversity means that we have struggled with the complex, the unknown, the fear, and the anguish that so often accompanies courage. 

Moral courage is more difficult of a quality human trait than physical courage.  While both may be admired and physical courage the most regaled, it is moral courage that most advances our group, organization, society. 

There is a noticeable lack of moral courage today, in particular in senior leaders.  This is a sad commentary.  Fortunately, there are those who do possess moral courage (it doesn’t come in degrees). 

Too many people are no longer interested in doing what is right but what is popular or the most expedient; those things that will simply prevent them from being a target for ridicule or insult.



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