Lego superman showing courage
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Living a life of virtue is the chief aim of the Stoics. To do so, we must understand what Virtue is. Here is my take on it. The four virtues in Stoicism are; Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Temperance. In this part, we are going to be brave and look at the virtue of Courage. 

The first idea we have of Courage is of a person being a hero. Saving others or valiantly fighting in a battle. What we will find is that courage takes on many different forms. And we will also explore how it fits within the Stoic idea of living a virtuous life. 

Face your fears

Hands crossed blocking something out of fear
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Of course, the soldier or protestor who is standing up for her beliefs is acting out of Courage. She is facing her fears, overcoming them, and standing her ground. Her sense of Justice shows her what to fight for. Her Temperance tells her how far to go. And her Wisdom has given her the reasoning power to outline these virtues. Courage then tells her when and how to act. When her rational view of the situation tells her the boundaries of justice are in peril, that is the moment she needs to step forward.

Fear is an important driver when we need to call upon our Courage to act or keep doing what we are doing. But what are the fears that we face? Is it always this enemy ready to harm us or are there others a bit closer to home. Fear is often connected to losing something. And losing something hurts. In a battle, we fear losing our lives, which could be considered the ultimate test of Courage. Although forsaking our nature and our beliefs can be viewed as an even bigger loss.

Have the courage to let go of things

There are smaller battles we wage on a more frequent base. Such as the times when we need to make decisions that can see us losing our possessions, wealth, job, or our status. How far do you let your boss push you around before you stand up for yourself? How much do you let your money or status control your actions, instead of living the life you want to live? And how much do you worry about your possessions being stolen from you? 

Stoicism doesn’t tell you not to have things, it tries to train you to let go of the fear of losing things. You might have a fancy car, but it can be taken away from you at any moment. So enjoy driving it now, but if it has to go, hand over the keys and take the bus.

Know Thyself

Woman holding herself in thought
Photo by Ifrah Akhter on Unsplash

These are all external aspects of our lives that require Courage from us. Yet, we need to look closer and go inward to see what we need to ask ourselves. Then we will see what possible battles we can find there. How do we know where our limits are and when we need to act? That starts with knowing yourself. Any kind of philosophy starts with the question of who you are. As Socrates answered when asked what the most important principle of philosophy is: “Know Thyself”. 

This is where we must also start. It is time to ask ourselves a lot of questions. Not the easy questions, but we must go for the hardest questions to get to the core. And believe me, this takes a lot of Courage. Because most of the time, we will find things we don’t like about ourselves. Unless we find the Courage to investigate ourselves, we can’t grow as a person. 

Are you losing your identity, your virtue?

Why does it take Courage to examine ourselves? There is a fear of losing the supposed identity we have created over all these years. What will my friends think? How will my family look at me? When these doubts arise, the moment for the warrior is there to stand up and shout: ‘For Freedom!’ Because it is freedom and peace that you need. But they are never easy to get and require you to take responsibility and have the Courage to keep going. 

Once we have discovered our true nature, we can then apply these views to our life. Determining what we value the most will eliminate many battles for us. What happens, is that we realize we don’t need as much as we previously thought. The fear of losing things gets smaller. We like to live in a big house, but if we had to move to something smaller, that wouldn’t impede our happiness. We can adjust and live similar lives, perhaps even happier. 

Where do we draw the line?

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage - Seneca
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Courage is a skill we can practice and one we can employ in many different scenarios. You’ve probably been more courageous than you realize. Developing Courage needs the help of the other virtues, they all work together. One way is to try to picture the outcome if we act as a coward and don’t follow our nature. What will we have to deal with then and is that acceptable? What we begin to see here is that often Courage is common sense, the rational thing to do. True Courage then lies in the realization of this fact. That the alternatives are not an option. 

We have seen that Courage tells us when and how to act in the face of fear, adversity, and self-reflection. It is most often connected with the idea of losing things. This is why we need to ask ourselves what is really important to us and where we draw the line. Finding this out takes true Courage. And as Seneca put it:

“Sometimes even to Live is an act of Courage.”

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Letter LXXVIII

Read about the other virtues: Wisdom, Justice, Temperance

What is Courage
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10 thoughts on “What is Courage

  • 28 May 2022 at 14:11

    Most times it feels like it takes a lot of courage just to do the right thing in the world and in our lives. It is easier to remain stuck fearing the unknown and any source of uncertainty. Sometimes we see ourselves in situations that hurt us to the core and yet familiarity makes us bond to that. That’s when courage has a great impact. Awesome take on Courage, Benny, thanks for sharing!

    • 28 May 2022 at 20:50

      Thanks for your kind words. I am glad to see that you liked my views on this topic and you are right with your example as to when courage has an impact.

  • 28 May 2022 at 22:47

    Hi Benny! Interesting read again. And so nice you refer to the warrior as a she ;). And indeed setting the boundaries and living in freedom. That’s the spirit. Thanks

    • 29 May 2022 at 00:36

      Thanks, Gabby. Of course I used She. I have plenty of female warriors around me. 🙂

  • 29 May 2022 at 14:06

    I’m trying to develop courage and face my fear. However, sometimes it’s difficult and I had to back away haha.

    • 29 May 2022 at 21:03

      Thank you for your comment, Fransic. You are right, it is very difficult. But that’s how we can learn. We try and something we have to back down to later try again.

  • 31 May 2022 at 23:59

    Courage as you said is what it takes to overcome your fears and grow yourself as a person. Sometimes when everything is a mess in life courage is needed just to survive. I love how you analyze all the principles of stoicism. Can wait to read youe new one.

    • 3 June 2022 at 13:46

      You are absolutely right, Eri. Sometimes all we need is a little bit of courage to overcome a messy situation.
      Thank you very much for your great commment.

  • 10 July 2022 at 23:51

    It’s a very interesting post about the different forms that courage can take within our lives. I like that idea of building up to being courageous in situations by practising it.

    • 14 July 2022 at 12:04

      Thanks for reading and for commenting. Courage is something we can practice and make more of our own.


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