The meaning of courage

What is courage?

Although there are other terms, such as valour and bravery, courage is the word that is most used when dealing with issues of appropriate actions taken in trying circumstances. For example, a soldier who endangers his or her life to destroy something without merit may be brave for so-doing but is not necessarily courageous. Physical courage means being able to suffer threats, pain and hardships in order to achieve something. However, it is only when that something is worthy that it is truly courageous since moral courage applies. This means proceeding in the knowledge that it is the right thing to do. To many people, moral courage is something that takes a lot of effort since it will sometimes mean acting on your own, without support, or when others are actively discouraging you.

What does philosophy teach us about courage?

Various philosophers and religious texts deal with what it means to be courageous. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all had their ideas about courageous behaviour, something that they thought represented virtue. Much of Hindu mythology is about courageous acts being taken, and the same can be said of certain Bible stories in both Testaments. Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher, famously referred to courage as being the opposite of angst or fear rather than the mere absence of fearful emotions.

Can courage be taught?

Courageous behaviour is not something that can be taught in the same way as acquiring a foreign language, for instance, since it is an emotion. That said, developing coping mechanisms for handling fear will mean that you can become more courageous. After all, by controlling angst and living in more of a fear-free way, the less we intimidated we are to take the courageous decision.

What tips for finding greater courage are there?

If you want to be more courageous, then one technique that is used is to reimagine some fear in the past that you overcame. Maybe you can remember standing up to a bully as a child or going to the dentist even when you were worried about it. By calmly reliving those memories, you can train yourself to overcome inner fears. Likewise, meditating can lower your stress hormones which will mean feeling less fearful, thereby helping you to act with more physical and moral courage.

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