Courage- How to act appropriately

Courage- How to act appropriately in situations that involve fear and confidence


In my previous article on wisdom, I talked about how wisdom has been regarded as one of the cardinal virtues by scholars all along. In this article i will talk about another of the cardinal virtues known as COURAGE. The Webster dictionary defines courage as the mental or the moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand fear, danger and difficulty. Giving an age-old definition of Courage by Aristotle- Aristotle defined it as “the disposition to act appropriately in situations that involve fear and confidence- a rationally determined mean between cowardice and foolhardiness. We can see that courage has always been considered important in a persons life. I would also like to provide a psychological definition of courage as given by O’Byrne et al, (2000) “Dispositional psychological courage is the cognitive process of defining risk, identifying and considering alternative actions, and choosing to act in spite of potential negative consequences in an effort to obtain ‘good’ for self or others, recognising that this perceived good may not be realised.”

Like wisdom, courage is considered to be important in many cultures. Reading the works of the Eastern philosophers and western thinkers we see that even the wisest people in the history of the world marvelled at courage. Why do you think courage is so important in ones life? Do you think the soldiers of our country would be able to fight at the borders if they didn’t have any courage, the women going through domestic violence be able to stand against it? The answer is no. It wouldn’t have been possible. It is important because it enables people to face their challenges. The conception of courage varies from people to people. A study conducted by O’Byrne, Lopez and Petersen(2000) found that there was a considerable variation in the meaning people assigned to courage. Some perceive it as an attitude while some see it as a behaviour. 3 types of courage has been identified by psychologists which are as follows:

Physical Courage: this is the type of courage that involves the attempted maintenance of societal good by the expression of physical behaviour grounded in the pursuit of socially valued goals. The kind of courage displayed by a soldier fighting for his country.

Moral Courage : it is the behavioural display of authenticity in the face of discomfort of disapproval or rejection.

Vital Courage : This refers to the perseverance through a disease or disability even when the outcome is ambiguous. People who actively fight cancer or a disease which has an uncertain outcome are believed to display Vital Courage.

So you may ask what actually determines Courage or what leads to courage? I am going to write about a certain factors that have been found to lead to courage. They are :

  • Courageous behaviour is said to follow the identification of a threat after which there needs to be shift in the thinking of the individual as something that can be solved from as something that can never be solved.
  • Behavioural expectations of an individual, the role models a person has in her life and the value systems a person holds also determine if, when and how courage unfolds.
  • Personality traits of an individual also acts as important determinants of courage. People with a personality trait of social responsibility, empathic concern and risk-taking as well as altruistic moral reasoning determine whether a person becomes courageous or not.
  • Hannah et al, 2007 have also given a model to explain how courageous behaviour develops. they state that factors such as the perception of risk is impacted by external constructs such as social forces and positive states like hope, efficacy, or the experience of positive emotions as well as internal characteristics of an individual such as opens to experience and values and beliefs such as valour, loyalty. Hannah et al posit that these factors have a collective effect on how risk is perceived and whether courageous behaviours are exhibited. They also state that through the experience of these courageous behaviours the individual may develop a courageous mindset.

Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, were all people who exemplify courage and inspire us. Thus its important for us to remember these words said by Rabindranath Tagore:

“Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them”

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