Manvotional: The Cardinal Virtues — Courage

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 14, 2012 · 25 comments

in Manvotionals

From The Cardinal Virtues, 1902
By William De Witt Hyde


If man were merely a mind, wisdom to see particular desires in the light of their permanent consequences to self, and justice to weigh the interests of self to the impartial scales of a due regard for the interests of others, would together sum up all virtue. Knowledge, in these two forms, would be virtue, as Socrates taught.

We feel, however, as well as know. Nature, for purposes of her own, has placed the premium of pleasure on the exercise of function, and attached the penalty of pain to both privation of such exercise on the one hand, and over-exertion on the other. Nature, too, has adjusted the scale of intensity of pleasures and pains to her own ends; placing the keenest rewards and the severest penalties on those appetites which, like nutrition and reproduction, are most essential to the survival of the individual and the race; thus enforcing by her rough process of natural selection a crude wisdom and justice of her own. Moreover, these premiums and penalties were adjusted to the needs of the race at a stage of evolution when scanty and precarious food supply and a high death rate, due to the combined inroads of war, famine, and pestilence, rendered nutrition and reproduction of vastly more relative urgency, in comparison with other interests, than they are to-day.

Pleasure and pain, therefore, though reliable guides in the life of an animal struggling for existence, are not reliable guides for men in times of artificial plenty and elaborate civilization. To follow the strongest appetites, to seek the intensest pleasures and shun the sharpest pains, is simply to revert to a lower stage of evolution, and live the life of a beast. Hence that combat of the moral nature with the cosmic process to which Mr. Huxley recently recalled our attention; or rather, that combat of man with himself which Paul and Augustine, Plato and Hegel, have more profoundly expressed. This fact that Nature’s premiums and penalties are distributed on an entirely different principle from that which wisdom and justice mark out for the civilized man renders it necessary for wisdom and justice to summon to their aid two subordinate virtues — courage and temperance: courage to endure the pains which the pursuit of wisdom and justice involves; temperance to cut off the pleasures which are inconsistent with the ends which wisdom and justice set before us.

The wide, permanent ends at which justice and wisdom aim often involve what is in itself, and for the present, disagreeable and painful. The acquisition of a competence involves hard work, when Nature calls for rest; the solution of a problem requires us to be wide awake, when Nature urges sleep; the advocacy of a reform involves unpopularity, when Nature suggests the advantages of having the good opinion of our fellows; the life of the country calls for the death of the soldier, when Nature bids him cling to life by running away.

Now, since we are not ascetics, we must admit that per se pleasure is preferable to pain. If it were a question between rest and work when weary, between sleep and waking when tired out, between popularity and unpopularity, between life and death, every sensible man would choose the first alternatives as a matter of course. Wisdom and justice, however, see the present and partial pain as part of a wider personal and social good, and order that the pain be endured. True courage, therefore, is simply the executor of the orders of wisdom and justice. The wise and just man, who knows what he wants, and is bound to get it at all costs, is the only man who can be truly brave. For the strength of one’s courage is simply the strength of the wise and just aims which he holds. All bravery not thus rooted and grounded in the vision of some larger end to be gained is mere bravado and bluster.

Of the many applications of courage, two of the simplest will suffice for illustration: the courage of space, to take the pains to keep things in order; and the courage of time, to be punctual, or even ahead of the hour, when a hard task has to be done.

Even if our life is a small, sheltered one, even if we have only our house or rooms to look after, things tend to get out of order, to pile themselves up in heaps, to get out of our reach and into each other’s way. To leave things in this chaos is both unwise and unjust; for it will trouble us in the future, and trouble the people who have to live with us. Yet it costs pain and effort to attack this chaos and subject it to order. Endurance of pain, in the name of wisdom and justice, to secure order for our own future comfort and the comfort of our family and friends, is courage. On the other hand, to leave things lying in confusion around us; to let alien forces come into our domain and encamp there in insolent defiance of ourselves and our friends, is a shameful confession that things are stronger than we. To be thus conquered by dead material things is as ignominious a defeat as can come to a man. The man who can be conquered by things is a coward in the strict ethical sense of the term; that is, he lacks the strength of will to bear the incidental pains which his personal and social interests put upon him.

The courage of time is punctuality. When there is a hard piece of work to be done, it is pleasanter far to sit at ease for the present, and put off the work. “The thousand nothings of the hour” claim our attention. The coward yields to “their stupefying power,” and the great task remains forever undone. The brave man brushes these conflicting claims into the background, stops his ears until the sirens’ voices are silent, stamps on his feelings as though they were snakes in his path, and does the thing now which ever after he will rejoice to have done. In these crowded modern days, the only man who “finds time” for great things is the man who takes it by violence from the thousands of petty, local temporary claims, and makes it serve the ends of wisdom and justice.

There are three places where one may draw the line for getting a piece of work done. One man draws it habitually a few minutes or hours or days after it is due. He is always in distress, and a nuisance to everybody else. There is no dignity in a life that is as perpetually behind its appointments as a tail is in the rear of a dog.

It is very risky — ethically speaking, it is cowardly — to draw the line at the exact date when the work is due; for then one is at the mercy of any accident or interruption that may overtake him at the end of his allotted time. If he is sick or a friend dies, or unforeseen complications arise, he is as bad off as the man who deliberately planned to be late, and almost as much to blame. For a man who leaves the possibility of accident and interruption out of account, and stakes the welfare of himself and of others on such miscalculation, is neither wise nor just; he is reckless rather than brave. Even if accidents do not come, he is walking on the perilous edge all the time; his work is done in a fever of haste and anxiety, injurious alike to the quality of the work and the health of the worker.

The man who puts the courage of punctuality into his work will draw the line for finishing a piece of work a safe period inside the time when it is actually due. If one forms the habit and sticks to it, it is no harder to have work done ten days, or at least one day, ahead of time than to finish it at the last allowable minute. Then, if anything happens, it does no harm. This habit will save literary workers an incalculable amount of anxiety and worry. And it is the wear and tear of worry and hurry, not the amount of calm, quiet work, that kills such men before their time.

I am aware that orderliness and punctuality are not usually regarded as forms of courage. But the essential element of all courage is in them — the power to face a disagreeable present in the interest of desirable permanent ends. They are far more important in modern life than the courage to face bears or bullets. They underlie the more spectacular forms of courage. The man who cannot reduce to order the things that are lying passively about him, and endure the petty pains incidental to doing hard things before the sheer lapse of time forces him to action, is not the man who will be calm and composed when angry mobs are howling about him, or who will go steadily on his way when greed and corruption, hypocrisy and hate, are arrayed to resist him. For whether in the quiet of a study and the routine of an office, or in the turmoil of a riot or a strike, true courage is the ready and steadfast acceptance of whatever pains are incidental to securing the personal and public ends that are at stake.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin Schroeder April 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm

What a great read as always…. and from none other than my favorite site on the web. Thank you for all these wonderful pieces!

2 Matt King April 14, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Incredible insights on the virtue of courage. I thoroughly enjoyed this and the different elements of courage it discussed. As men, I believe that the majority of us desire to grab a sword and fight for our loved ones as William Wallace did, but how many of us have cluttered rooms and work spaces? And, for those of us in school, how many of us wait until the last minute to finish our work? Powerful stuff.

There is a great freedom in living as a sacrifice for others. It takes great courage and is accompanied by pain, but in the end, it is so worth it.

Thanks & God bless!

3 Erickson April 15, 2012 at 3:45 am

I read this during my break from studying for my finals. Courage, I think, is a necessary element to success. Thank you Kate and Brett, for reminding and inspiring me about the importance of this virtue.

4 Chase Christy April 15, 2012 at 8:55 am

It definitely takes courage to launch into a difficult assignment ahead of time – to choose to work rather than relax.

Good article. Very creative application for this cardinal virtue.

5 Eric April 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm

“The wide, permanent ends at which justice and wisdom aim often involve what is in itself, and for the present, disagreeable and painful. The acquisition of a competence involves hard work, when Nature calls for rest; the solution of a problem requires us to be wide awake, when Nature urges sleep; the advocacy of a reform involves unpopularity, when Nature suggests the advantages of having the good opinion of our fellows; the life of the country calls for the death of the soldier, when Nature bids him cling to life by running away.”


6 Ymas Dauof April 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm

I would like to thank you Brett & Kate. For years I have had no problem putting off work or putting on weight and simply labeling myself as “lazy”. But it is not until I realized that this was cowardice that I decided to take the reigns and something about it.

7 Fred Scantling April 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm


8 Evan M April 16, 2012 at 2:44 am

“How? Courage! What makes a King out of a slave? Courage!
What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage!
What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!
What makes the Sphinx the Seventh Wonder? Courage!
What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage!
What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the ape in ape-ricot? What have they got that I ain’t got?”
-The Cowardly Lion

9 Si April 16, 2012 at 4:26 am

As an evangelist for courage, I found this profound. No, not bullets and bears, but the paper that needs filing and the bills that need paying and the calls that need making. When that is done, the bullets and bears are just things that can be handled! I loved this and I love what you are up to. Great work, keep going.

10 curtis April 16, 2012 at 4:40 am

why dont you write a artical about how to fight like a man, take it like a man, talk man to man mono a mono, how to ballroom dance like a man. just a suggestion thats for reading and i love the artical written above i think its so profound and philosphical.

11 Ralmon April 16, 2012 at 8:29 am

Courage: strengths that allow one to accomplish goals in the face of opposition.

from Wikipedia:

Have anyone read “Character Strengths and Virtues” Handbook?

Love this manvotional.

12 Federico Alfonso April 16, 2012 at 10:09 am

Awesome post! It is profound and very original: sheds new light on the subject. I have already printed it and nailed on my wall, for it is an inspiring reading. Many thanks!

13 leoban April 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm

this one is for Jimmy King.

14 Matt April 16, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Great read!

15 Alex April 16, 2012 at 5:41 pm

A great read, certainly words of wisdom worth keeping in your library for whenever.

On a separate note, however, I was wondering what happened to the Trunk. It appears to have disappeared from the site. Anyone else experiencing this?

16 Kerry April 16, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Courage is certainly the action to practice integrity in daily duties and the proceedure to allow only the best of things into your life circle. In other words DARE to do Right. When you step forward step forward with a positive purpose, with a vigor of valor over vice and right over might. Seeking wisdom from the best books and teaching the best principles, most of all having the courage to choose the right always or admit your errors and move on to better heights pulling up those around you to loftier climbs and vistas of panoramic potential.

17 Brandon Watson April 17, 2012 at 4:04 am

I am glad that I found your website. Thank you for dedicating and committing time to produce these wonderful articles. Keep up the good work!

18 John K. April 17, 2012 at 6:35 am

Great article, in today’s ever adjourning society courage is more needed than ever.

19 Megalo April 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm

After reading this, I have decided that laziness, apathy and procrastination in any endeavour, is UNACCEPTABLE.

Thank you for this great article.

20 Ben April 17, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Courage is an important thing. Recently i’ve worked on being courageous in exploring my own limiting patterns, programming and emotions using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and it’s really making a difference.

I’ve found if you can combine being courageous with also letting go of emotions that are stopping you from doing what you really want, then it is even more powerful. :)


21 BenG April 18, 2012 at 1:34 am

Thanks Brett and Kate, a fine addition to the courage entries. I also want to thank you for the book–I’ve recently been going through a strenuous time and the manvotionals entries on courage have been a game changer for my vision, and a rousing call to “stomp on my feelings like snakes”–great line–and do the daily things I know I need to do to be a husband/father/professional. So thanks, I really appreciate what you guys do!

22 Daryl J. Yearwood April 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm

As a retired Fire Chief, I can attest to the imperative of order as it relates to preparedness. Much of a firefighter’s time is spent seeing that equipment operates correctly, is clean, and in its proper place. There is a sense of accomplishment in the task of orderly preparations, and the payoff can be a matter of life-or-death.
Great post, as always.

23 Chase April 21, 2012 at 11:38 am

I thoroughly enjoyed the different take on courage that was put here. When most think about courage, we think about putting ourselves in danger physical harm, not mental or psychological. Another great read, thank you.

24 Brent April 24, 2012 at 6:12 pm

This article is mind blowing to me. I never associated procrastination with courage, but it is such on a small scale. The most successful people are often the most courageous; they can execute their sensible means.

How true is it that if habitually you procrastinate it is stressful but if you have courage to do tasks punctually it’s is low stress. Great post.

25 Stener April 26, 2012 at 7:53 am

Thank you for this article. It made me rethink about the way I see things. As Brent said, I also never associated proscrastination with courage, though they are directly related. Although I agree with this part of the article:
“The brave man brushes these conflicting claims into the background, stops his ears until the sirens’ voices are silent, stamps on his feelings as though they were snakes in his path”
It isn’t always easy to do that. Imagine the situtation: maybe the “conflicting claim” is something you really care for. Maybe you have a really important work, critical to your resume or career record, due to next week, but a really close friend, your wife or your kid is feeling sick. Which is the most courageous, to see your beloved ones bad, because you’re beeing courageous to face it and think about your own future comfort, or to face a decline in your career, which could affect your future and the future of your friend/wife/kid to help them in any way you can to feel better?
Both decisions are courageous, but both come with great consequences that may be considered cowardly.

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