Ask America’s SgtMaj: Courage

Since it’s October and the theme seems to be fear and fear related topics…

I was recently asked: “What is courage or valor?  Where does it come from?  Is it innate or can it be learned?”

Naturally, I had some thoughts on this subject:

Courage is defined as what makes someone capable of facing extreme danger and difficulty without retreating. It implies not only bravery but the ability to endure in adversity. 

Valor is defined as great courage in the face of danger, especially battle. Again though, a great display of valor on the battlefield doesn’t equate to a great display of character at home.

Courage in and of itself isn’t necessarily a great thing. It takes some courage to rob a bank I’d imagine. It takes courage to fight for one’s beliefs even if they’re suppressive and xenophobic.

I have discussed before about there being two types of courage, moral and physical. Moral courage is by far the most difficult and often doesn’t involve any form of physical violence at all. 

Moral courage is doing what is right even when no one is looking. It takes moral courage to take responsibility for your own actions than blame others for your failings. It takes moral courage to choose a life of rigor vice comfort. It takes moral courage to stand and be counted when it matters.

With that in mind, I would argue courage is not innate and must be taught as a matter of consciousness. The individual has to choose valor as a course of action. The comfort based, self centered decision is the easy one which requires no training to make. The other oriented, rigorous choice requires an example to follow and that the virtue of moral courage be taught.

Finally, let me leave you with a fable my Division SgtMaj recently shared with us.

An Indian fable says that a mouse was in constant distress because of its fear of the cat. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. Immediately it became afraid of the dog. So the magician turned it into a dog. Immediately it began to fear the tiger. So the magician turned it into a tiger. Immediately it began to fear the hunter. Then the magician said, “Be a mouse again, you have only the heart of a mouse and I cannot help you.”

Ponder this as you carry out the plan of the day.

Semper Fidelis,
America’s SgtMaj

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  1. If the English language has a word for the synergistic combination of moral courage, right action, and bravery, I’m sorry to say I don’t know it. If there isn’t such a word, there should be. If there was, it would either be used too rarely for people to know the word, or overused as the word “hero” oftentimes is by the media.

  2. “For us, ‘Exemplar’ is the definition of the modern warrior—that individual who is self-initiated, ever dutiful in aiding others, ever pushing forward in self development of his or her own capability, consciousness, and character. Exemplar LLC provides a culture where those individuals can pursue the path of the Exemplar.”

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