One trait that is often quoted as being masculine is courage. Courage is often misunderstood and I feel it needs some clarification. In this article we’ll take a look at; what courage is and how you can become more courageous.
No time? Just looking for things you can do to become more courageous? Here they are;
- Realize that fear is normal but not always.
- You don’t have to be stupid
- Have convictions and know your limits
- Focus on the positive effects
- Learn from role models
What is courage?
To be able to talk about something, it’s important that everyone know what we’re talking about. Courage is something people have tried to define for a long time and not everyone arrives at the same spot. Let’s look at a few definitions and explanations to see if we can discover the meaning.
The first (but not only) stop to find out what something is, is the dictionary.
From Oxford dictionary;
“the ability to do something that frightens one.”
“Strength in the face of pain or grief.”
While more than one philosopher has given the concept of courage some thought, some are more influential than other.
Aristotle might be one of the most well-known philosophers. Aristotle has written quite a lot about courage so it might be good to take a look at that.
To start off with, Aristotle classifies courage as a virtue which is obviously something you want more of. Also, the word for courage in Ancient greek is: andreia. The literal translation of which is “manliness” interestingly enough.
That’s not my translation but from this website. Check it out to read a deeper explanation of the Aristotelian idea of courage.
For the sake of brevity I’ll just give you the definition here;
“The courageous man withstands and fears those things which it is necessary [to fear and withstand] and on account of the right reason, and how and when it is necessary [to fear or withstand] them, and likewise in the case of being bold.
You can see here that he sees courage as a balance between the right amount of fear and boldness. There should also be correct reasoning involved in an act, to be able to call it courageous.
Examples of courage
While a dictionary is a good place to start learning, it’s not the Holy Grail for understanding concepts. Another great way to discover what something means is to look at some examples.
The examples below are two great examples. They are not necessarily the absolute most courageous people of all time. There are plenty more good examples to be found throughout history.
Courageous example 1: Tank man
The man who got crushed by a tank on Tiananmen square during the student protests. His name is not known although there are speculations.
He literally stood up for what he believed in. And while he suffered the worst possible consequences, he became a martyr that showcased the cruelty of the Chinese communist regime.
Courageous example 2: Witold Pilecki
The Polish Witold Pilecki got himself arrested to get into Auschwitz concentration camp on purpose. He did this to gather evidence of what was going on there. Sending his information to the allies probably played a role in accelerating the liberation.
After 2 years he broke out of the camp successfully. While he got out of that situation he sadly got executed for his next courageous act of staying loyal to the exiled (non-communist) polish government.
What is NOT courage?
I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what courage is by looking at the things written above. It’s time to define the borders a little. To know where the border is, we can look at what does NOT belong to courage.
Courage is NOT stupidity
Running face first into an enemy that can’t be defeated while you have other options is not courage. That’s stupidity.
Let’s say you are on a battlefield and you have to take a position. This position is heavily fortified and guns are aimed towards your location. Is it courageous to leave your cover and run straight at the position, likely getting you shot and killed?
It depends. Do you have other options? Is it possible to flank the position? Can you call in an airstrike? If you’ve got other options to solve the problem without getting yourself hurt, it’s not courageous to step into the line of fire, it’s just stupid.
Your boss might be an absolute ****. Maybe he is about to make a decision that will hurt the company and its employees. Or maybe he is just a bully. Do you stand up to him in the weekly meeting?
Again, it depends. Will it make a difference? Does attracting the anger of your boss help anyone? Or will it just get you fired? Are there other solutions?
Courage is NOT the absence of fear
You’ve probably seen this quote on several motivational posters or Instagram posts. That doesn’t mean it’s not true though.
If you don’t fear anything you’re not necessarily courageous. Someone that is too weak to kill a mosquito is not necessarily an animal lover.
Having fear is normal and mostly healthy. Being aware of consequences can help you avoid them. And avoiding bad consequences is the default programming for many people.
That’s why real courage is rare. You have to override your go-to response to a certain situation. Not many people are able to do this.
Different types of courage
We can also distinguish different types of courage.
- Physical courage
This is probably the type most people think of when they see or hear the word courage. The courage to do something physical that could possibly result in your injury or even death.
Think of a firefighter running into a burning building to save a child.
- Mental courage
Another type of courage is when you speak up for ideas and opinions that are important to you. Especially if it is something unpopular, you could face significant backlash for voicing your ideas. Many people are very reluctant to be seen as “not normal” or having dissident ideas.
Refusing to comply with an abusive authoritarian regime can be seen as mental courage.
- Moral courage
Moral courage is when you act because your moral beliefs. This can be speaking out when you see something that you think is wrong.
It can also mean not participating in certain activities.
Courage is the ability to do something you KNOW can result in some kind of pain for you as a result. This pain can be physical or psychological. Courage is the ability to overcome the instinctual response to avoid these consequences.
How can you become more courageous?
Now we understand what courage is and isn’t, you probably want to know what you can do to become more courageous. Possibly you have been in situations in the past when you whished you had a bit more courage. Situations that might have changed your or others’ lives if you had acted with a bit more courage.
Here are some things that might help you;
1. Fears are normal but make sure they’re real
As described above, courage is not the absence of fear. Feeling fear is normal since a courageous act is something that carries risks. That’s what makes it courageous. If there were no downsides to a certain action, it wouldn’t be courageous.
It is of course possible that your fears are irrational. Most of us just go off of our gut feelings and never actually think through them.
What’s the actual worst that could happen? In some cases the downsides are actually pretty limited. In others you could actually die. And many cases are somewhere in between.
2. You don’t have to be stupid
On the other hand, don’t be stupid. Doing something just because it’s dangerous does not make it courageous. Don’t be an idiot and hurt yourself for no reason.
Are there other ways to fix the problem that carry less risk? If there is, you should probably pick another one.
Is the possible pay-off to being courageous worth the possible costs? If it is, go for it. If not, think again.
3. Have convictions and know your limits
You have to know what you are willing to stand up for. What will you let happen to your family and friends before you step in? What about strangers on the street? For your country?
If you know and decide what your limits are and what you will stand up for. What is worth it to stand up in your view of the world? What do you want to protect or promote.
Since you can’t think about every possible situation you could come across in your life, you need some high level convictions. Obviously that is completely up to you what that is.
If there is a situation you know is going to present itself sooner or later, prepare for it. You can do this by thinking through certain scenarios. What will you do in that situation? What are the risks? What are the rewards?
It’s a more detailed version of step 3. It’ll help you to make the right decision when the situation arises.
5. Focus on the positive effects
The reason people would like to be courageous is that there are possible positive effects. You’re taking a risk but there is a possible pay off. This can be many things; Your bully leaves you or others alone. You win position in the battlefield and save many lives. Quitting your job to focus on your own business pays off, etc.
All these positive effects can’t happen without you taking certain risks. To take these risks you need courage.
By focusing on the positives and not the negatives, it becomes easier to take the courageous decision.
6. Learn from role models.
If you’re presented with a situation that calls for some courage, you’re most likely not the first human ever to find yourself facing that problem.
Maybe you can find some role models that have gone through something similar and have done the right thing. There can be great inspiration in the actions of other people.
Other masculine traits
Courage isn’t the only important masculine trait. There are plenty of traits you could improve upon and become a better man. Check out if there are some useful articles here for you;