Developing Manly Courage

by Brett on February 8, 2009 · 49 comments

in A Man's Life, On Virtue


“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

-Anais Nin

Courage is a virtue that philosophers have been trying to define for millennia. In the Laches, Socrates engages in a heated dialogue with two Athenian generals about the definition of courage. But like most of Socrates’ dialogues, we learn what the virtue of courage is not, as opposed to what it is. Aristotle, in his Eudemian Ethics, establishes what I think is a good working definition of courage. Courage, according to Aristotle, is the mean between fear and recklessness. Cowards are debilitated by excessive fear, especially of things that shouldn’t be feared. Reckless men take unnecessary risks with excessive confidence in the face of danger. The courageous man, however, strikes a balance between irrational fear and foolhardy recklessness. The courageous man fears that which should be feared, but he endures his fear with confidence for the right reason. That right reason, according to Aristotle, is for the sake of honor and nobility.

So our working definition of courage is recognizing rational fears, but acting nobly despite this fear in order to maintain manly honor. And while that is a good definition of courage, I’m still not pleased with it. It fails to capture an ethos that courageous men display. I see people every day who recognize and face fear, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them courageous. For me, at least, courage is something that I know when I see. When I see courage in action, I’m inspired to dare for noble causes. Courageous men stir my soul to endure, even when I’m surrounded by defeat and cynicism.

Every man hopes to have the courage to endure the great trials and tests that he will meet in life. But before a man can take on the big challenges, he must hone his courage in the small decisions he makes every day. Courage is like a muscle; it can be strengthened and developed through consistent training. Below we discuss the different types of courage every man should seek to embody and how to develop a manly and courageous heart.

Physical Courage


Physical courage is the type of courage that often comes to mind when we think about this virtue. Stories of brave soldiers charging up a hill amid whizzing bullets consume our boyish imaginations. We are inspired and humbled by the stories of brave firemen and police officers rushing into the burning towers on 9/11 to rescue helpless victims. We all hope that when called upon to face a crisis, we too will be willing to risk our physical safety to save our own life and the lives of others.

How to Develop Physical Courage

Obviously, you cannot schedule circumstances in which you must show forth your physical courage. But you can prepare yourself before such an event occurs. Even if you have a courageous heart, if you can’t walk up the stairs without getting winded, then you’re not going to be up to the task when duty calls. So get yourself in the best possible physical shape. Can you pull yourself up a ledge? Swim a mile? Sprint for several minutes at a time?

Yet a strong body is not sufficient if you wish to develop physical courage. Here I’d like to quote Hallock, one of the men who frequents the AoM forum:

“You can prepare yourself as much as possible for such circumstances where you are in desperation, but when push comes to shove most people’s minds will break before their body does. The mind plays a much larger role in the physicality of survival than aesthetic quality of the body or numeric prowess of weight.”

Thus to develop physical courage, you must also learn to discipline and train your mind.  Men who have seen combat or who have worked in dangerous environments will tell you that the way they overcome fear is to rely on their training. These men spend months or sometimes years training to face dangerous situations.  The goal of these trainings is to make their responses automatic. They don’t have to think too much about what to do because it’s already built into the circuity of their body and minds. Moreover, training develops the willpower they need to face the challenge.

Even if you’re not in a profession in which you are required to train for dangerous situations, you can still prepare yourself for physical challenges. Become proficient in a martial art. Learn how to confidently perform first aid and CPR. Make physical exercise a regular part of your routine; pushing yourself though the pain of intense workouts is an excellent way to build  self-discipline. And training need not be situation specific; any challenge that pushes you beyond your comfort zone and makes you face pain, discomfort, and fear head on will build your physical courage.

Intellectual Courage


We’re living a time of countless new problems. If we are to solve these problems, it will take men who have the courage to think bold new ideas and have the courage to endure social sanction from friends, family, and peers because of their ideas. History is full of great men who have displayed manly intellectual courage. Socrates devoted his life to the pursuit of truth. His teachings have inspired a great deal of Western thought, but his quest for truth ran counter to the prejudices of his day. The people of Athens charged Socrates with corrupting the youth. They put him on trial, condemned him, and sentenced him to death by hemlock. The court gave him the opportunity to refute his teachings in order to spare his life, but Socrates refused to do so. He showed the intellectual courage to stand for truth, even if it meant death.

Other men who displayed intellectual courage include Galileo, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and Charles Darwin. These men faced persecutions for their ideas, yet they endured them with manly courage. Because of their courage to think differently and to stand up for their ideas, society has advanced and improved.

How to Develop Intellectual Courage

Sadly, many men these days huddle in the safety of sheep-mindedness. Even if they have a bold and new idea, they’re afraid of sharing it because of the scorn and ridicule they may receive from others. While we might not discover the cure for cancer or develop a radical way to harness cold fusion, we have countless opportunities to display intellectual courage in our work and in our communities. We must learn not to fear what others think of our ideas.

The first step to developing intellectual courage is to become an avid reader. Read books from many different eras and study the history of ideas. Every time period believes that the way they think and view the world is essentially the way people have always done so. But as you acquaint yourself with intellectual history, you will see dramatic changes in the philosophies and principles that guided societies in each era. This will give you confidence to not settle for the status quo or believe that the ways things are cannot be changed.

If you’re a college student, don’t passively accept whatever your professors tell you. Ask questions, probe deeper. If you have an idea at work about how things could be improved or done differently, go to your boss and tell him or bring it up at a meeting. If you see a problem in your community, instead of cynically griping about it, have the courage to come up with a solution. Write letters to the editor, bring  a proposal before your city council at one of their weekly meetings, or better yet, run for political office yourself.

Moral Courage


Moral courage can be defined as the power and determination to follow what one believes to be right, regardless of cost to one’s self, and irrespective of the disapproval of others. Like intellectual courage, history is full of examples of men who displayed manly moral courage. One example that comes to mind is that of Gandhi. He was a man who almost single handily brought the British Empire to its knees and won the independence of 500 million Indians. Yet he had no army or political post. In fact, he walked around almost half naked and lived in a mud hut with no electricity. What Gandhi lacked in military and economic strength, he made up for in moral courage. Through his use of non-violent protest, Gandhi was able to persuade the British government with his courage to liberate India.

You just need to read the newspapers to see that we are surrounded with grave moral problems. From political and economic corruption in the United States to abject poverty and genocide in Africa. We desperately need fearless and forward-looking men who are determined to fight and win these battles. If we are to overcome these injustices, it will require men who have the courage to rise above the hip and trendy cynicism of today’s mass media and embrace sincere devotion to a noble cause.

How to Develop Moral Courage

Moral courage means standing up for your ethics and principles, even when it is not convenient, and most of all, when it could actually be to your detriment. To prepare yourself for times when your moral courage will be sorely tested, you should practice what you preach in the small decisions you make every day. When you’re tempted to lie to your boss to save your own skin, don’t. When the cashier gives you more change than you’re supposed to get, let them know. When someone pressures you to reveal confidential information, tell them to take a hike.

Moral courage thrives on empathy and compassion, the ability to understand the needs and hurts of others. If you’re a wealthy CEO, but have never lost touch with the common workingman, then you won’t be tempted to cheat them. If you weekly work with the homeless and poverty-stricken, you will have the courage to fight for policies and programs to help improve their lives.

Thus, the best way to develop moral courage is through offering regular service to others. When you work with people face to face, you gain the courage not to turn away and to fight for the right thing for them. You will find that this courage will not only apply specifically to the groups of people you directly serve, but will expand your compassion, and thus your courage, to do what is right for all people and in every situation.

The Courage to Be Great

The root cause of mediocrity wears many masks; most often, that of complacency, procrastination, hatred, and anger. Yet these masks only disguise the real source of a man’s lack of greatness: fear. Many men want to believe that they haven’t attained their goals because the work required to get there is too boring or too involved. But the real reason is often the fear of failure. The fear of discovering that you don’t have what it takes to make it. If you never try, you may never succeed, but you’ll also never fail. To follow such a path is to join the ranks of those destined to live and die as what Theodore Roosevelt called “those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Attaining greatness rests on a man’s ability to courageously take on risks and break from the comfortable shackles of apathy and complacency. Before Gerard Butler, star of such films as 300 and Rocknrolla, became a movie star, he found himself on a path that outwardly seemed quite successful. Butler had busted his butt in law school, graduated at the top of his class, and been hired by a large and prestigious law firm in Edinburgh. Yet he was miserable. Butler recalls: “I knew in my heart that being a lawyer was not what I wanted to do. . . I had missed work so often that I was on my final warning–and strangely enough, a week before, I’d gone to see Trainspotting, the play, at the Edinburgh Festival, and had my heart broken watching this guy play the lead, Renton, thinking, I know I can do this. So after I missed work again, they let me go. I had to call my mom that night and say, ‘I know you thought I was going to be a lawyer, but I’m not. I’ve just been fired.’” The very next day, Butler packed his bags and moved to London. Butler remembers: “It was like free-falling, but there was something incredibly thrilling about it. One day I heard they were auditioning for Trainspotting and recasting the role of Renton. I had no agent, so I took a little photo of myself and wrote my number on it. The director called me up, and I went in and read from the book, playing two parts, jumping from seat to seat; I spent the next half hour convincing him that I wasn’t really on drugs. I ended up getting the job, so a year later, I was back at Edinburgh doing Trainspotting. Even the people from the law firm came to see it. They loved it.” Butler could have buried his dream of acting and resigned himself to life as a lawyer. Instead, he had the courage to take a chance. And it has paid off handsomely.

How to Develop the Courage to Be Great

As with all the types of courage, you must start with the small decisions and work up to the bigger ones. Start identifying the ways in which fear is holding you back from your goals and your happiness. Remember, that this fear can take on various disguises, like procrastination. Cut through the rationalizations you have previously given for not following through on something. Remember, you haven’t done it yet not just because it’s an unpleasant task, but because you are afraid to do it. Quit putting it off and simply decide to finally tackle the situation head on. If you’ve been afraid to begin a workout program, join a gym and hire a personal trainer, so there’s no backing out. If you’re afraid of public speaking, volunteer to give a speech at the next company meeting. Talk to the girl you’ve been pining for at the coffee shop for 6 months. Start interviewing for a new job to replace the one you’re miserable in. Apply to graduate school. Just do it. The more fears you face and overcome, the more your courage and confidence will grow.

What do you all think? How can men develop courage? In what areas should they develop it in? Drop a line in the comment box and share with us.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ryan February 8, 2009 at 11:06 pm

I think that self confidence is integral to developing courage. If you are confident of yourself, it will be easier to phone that girl you’ve been pining for. If you are confident it will be easier to interview a better job rather than sticking it out in the same old crappy job. Developing self confidence seem to be a prerequisite to being courageous.

2 Productive Muslim February 8, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Great post! Muslim philosophers have looked into 2 powers within a Human Being: The power of anger and power of lust. The power of anger relates to the post above: This power within all of us (anger) if it’s too little, leads to cowardice, and if it’s too much, leads to tyranny. But when this power is controlled, that is courage!

3 Chris February 9, 2009 at 1:59 am

Brett, great post. It inspires me to have the courage to get off my ass to tackle a few of the things head on which I’ve been putting off. Keep up the great work.

4 bob konczal February 9, 2009 at 2:54 am

we develop courage through the little decisions we make every day. every time we decide to defer self-interest or gratification for a greater good, we develop the courage muscle. we get accustomed to doing the right, regardless of the personal cost. it becomes a lifestyle. and when the moment comes and the Big Decision faces us, we do what we have always been doing. and count it as the obvious course of action.

5 heywo February 9, 2009 at 6:24 am

“If you’re a college student, don’t passively accept whatever your professors tell you.”

Bravo, sir! As a college student myself I find that the kids here tend to just eat what they’re spoon-fed instead of challenging everything along the way and showing some individual thought. It’s a very disturbing trend in the entire education system.

Excellent post (and timely for myself).

6 Beat Attitude February 9, 2009 at 7:26 am

great post, thanks.

7 Joosh February 9, 2009 at 7:54 am

As I am about to go into college, I’ll be sure to take the “don’t accept advice blindly” snippet. I’m a pretty conservative centrist and I plan on attending one of the most liberal colleges in the world, UNC-Chapel Hill, this should be very interesting.
All-in-all, a great post, please keep more of these coming the world is in dire need of examples and advice like this.

8 CatpKras February 9, 2009 at 8:14 am

Once again, this never fails to impress.

Excellent topic, and work! Bravo!

9 NZR (the Plainsman) February 9, 2009 at 8:54 am

Maybe I should open that bakery…


I did start on a book yesterday…

Thanks for this timely post.

10 Will February 9, 2009 at 8:57 am

Also: for intellectual courage, there’s nothing like intellectual honesty. You can promote this by identifying those things you do which make you feel more secure in your belief without actually supporting them, that is, fallacies, especially ad hominem, false dilemma, and emotional wording. We should all get this in school, but if you didn’t (and few of us did), it’s not too late!

Then, without these blinders, we get to live in uncertainty — where the great minds live.

11 Ryan February 9, 2009 at 9:22 am

@Ryan – Good point on confidence. One of the most profound thoughts I’ve heard on confidence is that it’s really a lack of insecurities. I’ve found that view has helped me quite a bit in life.

12 Hallock February 9, 2009 at 9:34 am

Good article, appreciative of the shout out. Thanks, Brett.

13 Kevin February 9, 2009 at 11:46 am

A foundational post. Well done. I’m stepping up my game in every area of my life right now, and this kind of inspiration is like a drink of cool water. Awesome.

14 Michael February 9, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Excellent post, truly worthy of the banner of “Art of Manliness.”

I love the idea of developing the discipline of “exercising” courage.

And the three traits remind me of the Scout Oath, which just last weekend at church I was recalling fondly and remembering that I’ve fallen away from the practice of (which I should continue, although I’ve grown out of the program):
- Physically Strong
- Mentally Awake and
- Morally Straight

15 Mandi February 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Great article!

I especially like the way you suggested practice. One should be so accustomed to doing the right thing when the stakes are small that the big ones come automatically.

16 Brucifer February 9, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Alas, with far too many men in this wretched epoch, there seems to be not a lack of self-esteem, …. but rather the lack of a defensible reason FOR the pusillanimous esteem with which they carry themselves. This post provides sound guidelines for authentically garnering a reason for valid pride in one’s self.

17 Timothy Roy February 9, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Excellent and timely post.

I submit that the courage to stand up for yourself – for your own dignity – is of fundamental importance. You cannot stand up for your ideals or for others without the ability to stand up for yourself. Knowing where to draw the line in relationships with others, whether friends or social bullies, is a key part of mature courage.

Starting with physical courage was an excellent choice. For men more than women, I think, physical courage is the base upon which other kinds of courage depend. See, for example, “Boxing and the Cool Halls of Academe”, which appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2004.

“How can you be consistently honest or just if you don’t have the mettle to take a hit?”

18 Wayne February 9, 2009 at 2:41 pm

I would like to suggest to all but esp to Joosh, the fellow headed to a very liberal college, “Don’t fall on your sword.” As a philosophy and psychology student it was very easy to get into ongoing discussions with profs, these often turned into quasi-arguments. My point is: When you are going to college the main task it to learn what the instructors have to say AND to get the grade and get out of their. Chose the time and place to make your stand. When you have had that profs last class or when you have graduated and entered that grad school you wanted, those are good times to put it in his face if you need to. Dont sacrifice your future arguing with a prof who probably cant be convinced of anything.
… lol… I dropped more than one class because the profs world view was so skewed that I couldnt handle it. Plan for that to happen.

good luck

19 Stephen M. February 9, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Outstanding post, both informative and motivational.

20 Danny D. February 9, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Regarding physical courage: Training trains your brain to react without thought.

For example: After returning home from Iraq, I was driving to a friend’s house when some little kids egged my car – I happened to spitting out my window when it happened. My muscle memory reacted faster than my brain could process, and I had turned to react to what hit my car before I even spit out the window – resulting in me spitting all over my windshield.

While training and repetition are excellent for the initial burst of contact – be it enemy fire, a car accident, or a drowning child – your muscles will only respond for so long before you have to make an active decision to commit to your course. This is where most “cowardice” comes in. Some people just do not possess the intestinal fortitude see it through to the end. There is nothing wrong with this, but the problem comes when those people begin to criticize the actions of those brave few who did act – or worse, when they begin to take credit and tell stories as if it was they who were saving those in danger.

21 Zim February 9, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Wayne made a good point. I always had trouble with teachers because I tried to have some productive discussion and they don’t like to be questioned. Sometimes what seems like courage is a stupid risk, specially when it involves your education.
I should know, since I was stupid enough to not finish high school.

22 Suri February 10, 2009 at 3:29 am

An excellent post.
I can see the condensation of ideas from a lot of your other posts about the several amazing men who’ve you’ve covered on your site before.
I wholeheartedly agree with all that you’ve said and congratulate you on so succinctly capturing the essence of such a difficult attribute.
To all that you’ve said I’d like to add just this.
Moral courage also gives you the moral high ground to be a good and genuine leader. It is one of the things I’ve found that has given Barack Obama his charm – the ability to take the moral high ground and call a spade a spade.

23 Cowboy Bob February 10, 2009 at 3:57 am

“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.” — John Wayne

24 D.W. Dwightson February 10, 2009 at 8:16 am

It occurred to me in reading this that Physical and Moral Courage have, at their core and among other things, selflessness. The selfish man is far less likely to achieve the requisite disconnect between action and potential harm.

Selfishness begets hesitation, hesitation begets justification, justification begets inaction.

This is where Brett hits the nail squarely on the head in calling for “regular service to others”. It is only through regular service, living a life where recognition of a need for action is consistent, that one can bring oneself to a place where acting without selfish hesitation is possible… Ayn Rand be damned.

25 Sean February 10, 2009 at 8:24 am

As lame as it is now, Palanhiuk had some great ideas for men in these modern times.

As he was writing from an alienated place in Fight Club, some ideas, when they seem pat and easy, are NOT for the modern man.

My favorite is the admonishment that Durden gives his host in the part (at least orchestrated for the film) where it become apparent that Durden is more than id, but an adolescent force of its own with its own fully grown body and franchise. That lack of fear, the exuberence for one’s own existence in adolescents is something I think we lose rather than cultivate. We should grow in empathy, while we grow our own strengths. That way, our lives become greater in service to others, and bolder in ourselves to drink of life.

This is why I like David fincehr’s film a great deal. he has no heroes, really. Just people, pushed to where all humanity and anything civilization may have taught them are rendered useless, you find men alone and alienated with nothing but their inherent humanity, wits, and, we hope, humility, and empathy.

Fincher draws a line in the sand about what being human is, even in his Aliens film there is some of that, since he erases gender/sexuality from reproduction and removes the line between creator and created, This is what men should strive for, to be able to say, “I built a world”.

“Shut up…listen to me. We have to consider the possibility that God does not like you, never wanted you, and in all probability, He hates you. This is not the worse thing that can happen….if we are God’s unwanted children, so be it!….You have to give up.

You have realize, and know, not fear, know, that someday, you’re going to die.”

Projecting a world…this is why we are alive. ANd to be done right, it takes cultivating courage of all the types above.

Great AOM post.

26 Ned Van Nostrand February 10, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I have to disagree that Darwin had intellectual courage. Even some modern day evolutionists discount much of his so-called science. Just because one thinks differently ,and mans up to the expected criticism, does not make one either an intellectual or courageous.

27 rb3m February 10, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Excellent post. It must be said, however, that part of courage is knowing when to admit defeat and retreat without shame.

Sometimes the odds are against us and instead of rushing headlong into total defeat it’s better to stand back and reconsider the approach.

Sometimes it’s simply not worth it, like internet arguments that lead nowhere.

And sometimes the other side is right! Hey, it can happen! It takes a big man to defend an idea, it takes an even bigger man to consider the ideas of others seriously and admit to flaws and shortcomings in our own.

@Ned Van Nostrand the fact that modern science can make better observations and thus has corrected and expanded some of Darwin’s theory does not mean he was wrong, or that he wasn’t doing science, or that he wasn’t intellectually courageous, or that his observations have been simply “discounted”.

28 Alex February 10, 2009 at 6:58 pm

I’m not sure if I would consider Gandhi the best model for moral courage. When his wife fell mortally ill, he told her not to take the drugs because they were against their religious principles. But when Gandhi contracted the same disease, he turned around and took the meds. At least, that’s what I learned in my history class. It may be apocryphal.

29 Sean February 10, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Alex, that is why his name was “Gandhi” and not “Jesus”.

he was human being.

I just love the lame industry of “cutting down” inspiring individuals, especially when those individuals are (usually) people of color (like MLK)….

Its just sad, intellectually lazy and SO derivative it makes the Strokes look like Kathy Acker.

its usually lazy, angry, mean spirited white dudes. You know it, I know it.

gilrein rules.

30 heywo February 10, 2009 at 10:03 pm

“I just love the lame industry of “cutting down” inspiring individuals, especially when those individuals are (usually) people of color (like MLK)….”

Although I agree it can be disheartening, but while I can’t speak for every circumstance or inspirational leader, more often than not there’s dirt beneath the roses. Just like a few bad things shouldn’t overshadow the good things someone does, a few good things should never overshadow the bad. We should take note, learn from it, and move on.

31 Yolanda Garfield February 14, 2009 at 1:55 pm

When you define manhood, do you take into consideration ‘emotional courage’? It takes something different to dodge a bullet, and something different to explore real love. If you don’t know how to throw yourself into being a lover, a father, a husband, someone who travels through life knowing at the end, you won’t have another chance, are you still a man who possesses courage?

32 RagTagRebel February 14, 2009 at 6:44 pm

The courage to be great, that’s exactly something I’ve needed to read for a loooonnngg time. Thanks for the post.

As far as taking steps to be more courageous overall, why not make an effort to become totally honest with what you are thinking and feeling with everyone, all the time.

That doesn’t mean you have to be insulting and rude, you can plead the 5th whenever you don’t want to respond to someone (you could be honest still and say “honestly I don’t want to answer that question/give my opinion” for ex.) , but always be honest with what you want and never lie or put up a false front.

I know so many guys that lie over really stupid things, and the more I see it the sadder it gets. It shocks me how guys lie to wives or g/f’s about their smoking habits, or where they are at the moment (often at normal places like a bar, or stopping somewhere after work). It’s just crazy!

It takes a lot courage to be completely honest with yourself and everyone else, and I think its one of the best places to start. But I’ve seen it really change things…

I once approached this beautiful Portuguese girl in a club and said to her “Hey I think you’re stunning and I really want to say something cool, but I’m too nervous because your beauty intimidates me”

Her response was priceless!

She basically said that was really flattered and never heard anything like that before. She told me she was already seeing someone, but “you’ve got balls!” Even my friends looking from a distance could tell she was really excited. I didn’t pursue her from then on, but I was told throughout the night from then on she was looking at me a lot (looking excited).

It changed my perspective forever. All I did was just say what i was thinking, totally honest and upfront, but my emotions were going off like a fire alarm! But I believed it was the right thing to do and my fears were not going to stop me. Since then life has become much richer relationship-wise (and in other ways too). Seems like the truth will set you free.

I thought about what Batman said at the end of the Dark Knight, that “Sometimes, truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes, people deserve more. Sometimes, people deserve to have their faith rewarded”

I think he’s wrong about that. Instead I say…

At all times, the truth is the good enough. People deserve more of it, and in time, our faith in the truth will be rewarded.

33 Klemanius February 15, 2009 at 4:07 am

on the topic of intellectual courage, I find it often difficult to find an outlet for intellectual discussion, how can we develop intellectual courage if there is no opportunity to display it? It seems we live in a world were it is taboo to talk on enlightened, intellectual subjects such as politics, economics, philosophy or religion. In the industrial and inquisitive 17-19th centuries Europe saw the rise of the Salon and the club, places were men could go to and discus topics of intellectual importance, yet today there are no common outlets to allow for enlightened and serious conversation. It seems sad to me that not only do we live in a world were we do not even have the opportunity to regularly challenge our own ideas but were many do not bother to form ideas at all.
It seems ironic that in an age were science is king, we are devoid of thought.

34 hannibal February 15, 2009 at 11:53 am

but when you are on that edge between recklessness and courage, how will you know it’s not just fear holding you back, and to just do it. I’m asking as someone who can’t tell if I’m being reckless or not. The courage idea must be only a personal one, because the guidelines are contradictory to other guidelines. For example, is going to Grad school, and taking out another twenty thousand dollars or more of loans courageous or reckless? consider that you already have $80,000 worth of loans, and a monthly loan payment of $1000. Say you want this education for a job that won’t be so certain, like Gerard Butler’s. Now the other guideline states courageousness is putting off self interest. So isn’t staying at a job you hate and enduring just as courageous? Contradictions. Courageousness must then come from reflecting on decisions and deciding that they were courageous.

Had Gerard Butler had a wife and kids to care for, then his decision would have been reckless and not courageous.

35 Spida Hunter February 15, 2009 at 1:26 pm

First time to site and what a read, awesome thanks for that! You have put words to “thoughts”, that have been ‘sitting’ in me.

Thanks heaps,

36 Guilherme February 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm


Every time i feel a little down, just a visit here makes me cheer up.

Keep up with the good work guys!

37 The Philosopher February 18, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Great work. This is a commendable article.

38 Mike Mailman February 20, 2009 at 12:37 am

@ Klemanius-

I know what you mean.

In this day and age, where do we have an opportunity to express our courage? Life is for the most part molly coddled and easy. Intellectual courage? You need to have an original idea to defend. Physical courage? Someone has to attack you, or another, before that can be displayed. Moral courage? That is perhaps the easiest courage to display today.

But with moral courage, you need absolute certainty that you are in the right. Certainty you may not have except in retrospect. In those circumstances, courage is only recklessness, my take is that courage without knowledge is recklessness.

One has to find a place in life which will allow them to express courage within any of these spheres. It will not come to those which do not seek it out. Life is too easy these days.

Mike Mailman

39 Rudi March 7, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Courage is not the absence of fear.
Courage is the decision to act

40 Carl Muthman June 29, 2009 at 11:20 pm

From what I understand fear is one of those primal instincts all creatures have, but as humans we have have intelligence and can learn to deal with those instincts/feelings. In my own personal journey, I believe that with experiences and gaining knowledge, courage can be developed. It requires trips outside the “comfort zone” and some effort into into getting that information.
Fear occurs naturally but courage has to be and can be learned.

41 James March 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Perhaps this can provide a better definition of courage?

For these psychologists, they break down courage into 4 parts


The total 6 main virtues are wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence. Goes in line with virtue ethics, in contrast to deontology or consequentialism. Also, some fundamental understanding of existential philosophy helps a great deal.

42 Olutunde Oladimeji May 23, 2013 at 11:28 am

This is a fantastic article that should be read by all who care about manliness. Very many thanks.

43 Sh0 August 28, 2013 at 11:36 am

Another great article from AOM.
I really enjoyed reading this and strongly feel that a lot of the time we all are in some way guilty of not just letting go and taking more chances. I suppose it’s better to take the plunge, then to never cross the bridge and truly find out what’s awaiting us on the other side. I really enjoyed reading the part about Gerard Butler. I never knew this about him but his sheer will power to, again, just take that risk, truly did pay off handsomely. Great post I always enjoy reading articles on such a great website.

44 Rowdy August 31, 2013 at 3:54 pm

You made a lot of good points, but one points you touched all around and never really directly hit on was social courage – the courage to stand up for yourself or some injustice that is immediately happening. For example, someone cuts you off in traffic then rolls down his window and lays into you at the stop light or a guy who wants to confront someone who is being a dick, but is afraid to.

45 Dott October 1, 2013 at 10:08 am

Rowdy, the social courage you are referring to is probably under moral courage though it’s good to have a separate section. “a guy who wants to confront someone who is being a dick, but is afraid to”, this sounds familiar to me because I’ve confronted before few school teachers who are being unreasonable but is afraid to and I end up crying. Furthermore, I’m someone who bothers about my studies and don’t create trouble. I wouldn’t have cried if I had the guts/courage to raise my voice. I didn’t because I didn’t wanna deal with the school authority.

Any idea how I can fix the crying part? D:

46 G.Nagewara Rao February 28, 2014 at 5:10 am

Great Post. Keep doing that may help like me. Lot of people indecisive because the fear of falure. Secruity is biggest comfort zone and hence they desist from jupming on the bandwagon for doing things differently, than existing. Anyway, like you said as one faces more challenges the effect of fear my diminish slowly and steadly.

47 Lars L. April 1, 2014 at 10:21 pm

Solid article, I’ve been needing this. Under my surname, Lars L., I have chosen to comment on this. I hope you understand I NEVER comment on this stuff, but I feel inspired to this time. Why? Because this article is so spot on to my problem in life. I act like a pussy. No balls whatsoever. Sure, I’m being a little hard on myself, but this needs to be addressed in order for me to live confidently.

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