The Four Stoic Virtues - Courage

Posted by Molly Frazier on

(If you haven’t read our blog post that gives an overview of the cardinal virtues of Stoicism, we recommend reading through that first.)

Introduction & Definition

We value the lasting insight of the ancient Stoic teachers here at Maritime Supply Co, and use their teachings as inspiration for our brand and the mementoes we design. This is the second part of our series focusing on each of the four Stoic virtues. In this chapter, we’ll be taking a deeper look at the virtue of courage. 

Courage (noun): the ability to do something that frightens one.

  • Strength in the face of pain or grief.

“A hero is no braver than any ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Courage can also be defined as maintaining your principles while facing down adversity. One of the most difficult aspects of remaining courageous is not letting fear or anger control you. In an ideal world, we would all be able to confront our challenges with dignity, persistence, and fortitude, but even the Stoic philosophers of old knew that wasn’t always possible. Just as Emerson summarizes above, situations are inevitably fearsome; courage is what will allow you to defy fear and emerge victorious.

Not The Absence Of Fear

The first step to gaining courage is to admit that a challenge is scary and accept that you may be feeling afraid. As Joyce Meyer says though, “Just because you feel fear doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Do it afraid.” It is human nature to experience fear - it has been a survival tool for millennia, warning us away from danger and harm. However, if you can’t admit to your anxiety and trepidation then there is no way you can control it. You’ll lose the battle before it’s even begun if you don’t control your panic or worry.

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Accepting fear will allow you to let the feeling pass through you, or you’ll be able to set it aside for the duration of your challenge, or you may even be able to fully resolve that distress. No matter which course of internal action you choose, you’ll be strengthening your mind and exhibiting Stoic courage.

To learn how to conquer your fears, read more here.

Go Out And Get Busy

But how do we decide what is more important than fear? In a perfect world, we would always be able to conquer our fear and power through every situation. However, that’s not a realistic expectation to set for ourselves. There is no way that you can guarantee you’ll always defy that dread, and you certainly can’t expect to achieve that overnight. We have to set a long term goal for our practice of courage. 

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” ~Dale Carnegie

The standard that we can hold for ourselves is to practice good discipline around our anxiety and alarm. The more often we follow the steps laid out in this flowchart, the stronger our mindset will be and the better prepared we will be for the next challenge. Just as the saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” and at some point this thought process will become subconscious and smooth.

Courage plays into other Stoic virtues as well, and is not a standalone attribute. Courage can melt back into wisdom after we have encountered similar problems often enough and successfully navigated them. In that instance, courage is adding to our overall experience and knowledge, and wisdom helps inform our actions. Additionally, courage is meant to embolden justice. Standing up for what is right can be a terrifying task and requires the strength that is forged through courage. 

So as Carnegie commands us, “Go out and get busy.” Face your obstacles head-on, admit to your fear, and be courageous long enough to conquer the situation.

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