Courage — What is it? How important is it? Can it be taught? Is it being taught?

Thinking Citizen Blog: Saturday is Justice, Freedom, Law, and Values Day

Today’s Topic: Courage — what is it? how important is it? can it be taught? is it being taught?

For Aristotle, any virtue is the mean between two extremes. Moral education is about imparting the habit of choosing that mean throughout life. In the case of courage, that would be choosing the midpoint between cowardice and rashness. To me, this makes courage sound a lot like prudence. Today, the first in a series of notes on the Seven Virtues. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

“IF” (Rudyard Kipling) — still the best statement on the subject ever?

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same…

NB: The poem is unknown to many students today. Is it a poem still worth memorizing? Should every high school graduate know it by heart? If not this poem, another with the same theme? If not a poem, what paragraph? If not a paragraph, what sentence?

PROFILES IN COURAGE — rising above narrow self-interest, putting principles first

1. The Pulitzer-prize winning, “Profiles in Courage,” (1956), ghostwritten for Senator John F. Kennedy by his speechwriter Ted Sorenson tells the story of eight Senators who put principles first above party or personal self-interest.

2. Who today can even name one of the Senators?

3. Who can say what even one of them did that was so courageous?

NB: what acts of courage are celebrated today? which ones should be celebrated? And taught in elementary, middle, and high school? Mandela? Gandhi? King? Churchill? Thatcher? Pankhurst? Parks? Bonhoeffer?


1. The greatest barrier to learning is the fear of looking like an idiot. In front of your teacher. And even more so your peers.

2. Courage is about asking that question or making that observation most likely to earn the anger or scorn of those whose opinion you care most about.

3. Courage is about expressing political convictions at odds with everyone else at the table.

NB: In a business context, fear of making your boss look like an idiot can be a recipe for financial disaster.

Courage Quotes (4553 quotes)