[May 28, 2016] Leaders often invoke the image of the great leaders of moral courage; Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Pope John Paul II, General George S. Patton, and the like. It is assumed that those traits that make up moral courage are understood and agreed upon. And while there is much to agree upon, it is better to actually show the components of courage, moral courage, as we understand it.
The reason is simple, each culture defines moral courage in different ways and while there are similarities, there are also differences that are important. For example, some do not distinguish between moral and physical courage while others confuse the two with sloppy use of the concept. I’ve written about moral courage here at theLeaderMaker.com on several occasions.1
Universally, it is agreed that to possess moral courage, one must have something at risk of being lost. Physical courage, for example, could mean one’s life or health is at risk when exercising some behavior. When moral courage is employed, it may mean that one’s job, reputation, status, monetary income, family position, etc. is at risk of being lost or degraded.
To possess moral courage, requires a majority of the following:
- Standing for what you believe in
- Speaking what’s on your mind
- Never giving up
- Possessing a clear vision
- Understanding one’s self
- Ability to listen to others
- Make decisions
- Understand risks and how to manage them
- Taking calculable risks
- Listening to others
It is also agreed that education is at the foundation of moral courage. Children must be taught virtues, as Aristotle has told us.2 For the species of human beings, he tells us that there is an excellence that should be obtained and to do so requires the individual to live one’s life according to the virtues. They must therefore be learned.
Moral courage, not unlike physical courage, is a skill. It can be learned. Fear can be controlled by learning to resist impulses and emotions. And courage is habituated by practicing it in real life for it cannot be gained except through conscious action supporting virtue.
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