Courage, bravery and valor are basically synonymous but there are different types of courage.
Physical courage is the type involved in overcoming the fear of physical injury or death in order to save others or one self.
Moral courage entails maintaining ethical integrity at the risk of losing friends, employment, privacy or prestige. In its most classic form, physical courage is the valor on the battlefield.
Cicero defined courage to include physical valor, yes, but also integrity and perseverance, any act of willfully overcoming your own security, comfort, complacency to achieve a greater good. Cicero meant courage is doing what is right even when one has much to lose.
Moral courage often relates to fear of others’ opinions. Looking foolish before peers, for example is a common fear. But moral courage compels an individual to do what he or she believes is right, despite fear of social or economic consequences.
Courage is reflected in acts that ignore your own needs and serve others first. Your acts of courage create a bond with your classmates, fellow-soldiers, and fellow-citizens. Courage can be promoted by practice (moral habit) by example (modeling) and by developing certain attributes of the individual (self-confidence).
Persistence, perseverance, industrious… finishing what you start; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; taking pleasure in completing tasks.
So do you need to cultivate the virtue of courage? How do you plan to do so? Might you share with us examples of courage in your lives? Might working on courage today prepare you for you challenges in your future?
Today I wish to drill deeper into one of the cardinal virtues the ancients called fortitude, which we commonly call courage. Let’s also think about the different types of courage, that is, physical and moral courage.
Then I would like to share with you stories of Courage in America based on my working with wounded warriors not much older than you.
Now let’s define character…. I view character as having a lifelong commitment to acquire virtue. It is doing what is right when duty or conscience call, especially when it is hard or will be unpopular.
For Aristotle, virtue is an acquired skill learned through trial and error. The doctrine of the mean is related to this characterization of virtue: One encounters a situation and, basing the decision on reason, experience and context, picks a course of action from between two extremes of disposition, those of deficiency or excess. The mean between the two is virtue: courageous is the mean between cowardliness and rashness.
I have been thinking about the passage in the New Testament where the centurion, a Roman officer who commands over 100 soldiers, comes to Jesus and implores Him to heal one of his servants who is suffering.
Jesus agrees to go to the man’s house and heal this servant. The centurion responds, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
I was first struck that the centurion, as a “man under authority,” readily recognizes the ultimate authority of God over earthly troops, so through the power of prayer, he tries to help his ailing employee. Christ immediately responds to the centurion’s faith…“I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!.” This is impressive because the centurion was a Gentile.
This Roman officer’s faith and compassion toward his servant made me think of our nation’s wounded warriors and of their need for equally powerful prayers. By praying for our wounded, we too show our faith in God, and we also show our faith in the warriors themselves by believing that with God’s grace and their courage and resilience, the troops will overcome adversity.
I can not know about the life of the centurion’s servant after he was healed, but I can tell you about wounded warriors I have known who are successfully recovering from traumatic injuries. They will tell you, among the lessons they have learned, is that every life is precious, and every hour in every day is also precious. They will tell you that every moment spent with their families and buddies is treasured.
These medical success stories exhibit Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome (PTGS.) They teach us to savor every moment, to live every experience to the fullest and learn to realize the gift of life and the gift of time. All of our lives constantly change, and some are transformed for the better (PTGS), while others for the worse (PTSD.)
I constantly remind myself of the life lessons that I have learned from our recovering wounded warriors who have chosen to shatter their dark days of despair, live in the light, and opt for a hope-filled future. And I am resolved to remember wounded warriors in my prayers and share the centurion’s conviction that God can bring good out of their suffering for them and for their caretakers.
On Veterans Day, my latest book, Courage in America: Warriors with Character will be available on Amazon (http://amzn.com/1604948728). Seven American warriors tell their stories of tragedy and triumph after suffering and recovering from traumatic war injuries. The book showcases the good character of these young heroes, their caregivers, and families. These stories will motivate newly injured to have hope during their own rehabilitation, and will give all Americans a better understanding of the sacrifices made by many military patriots.
You will meet traumatically injured warriors: Justin Constantine who was shot in the head by a sniper; Chad Ellinger who was crushed by a collapsing wall during combat; Sam Angert and Chase Cooper who suffered traumatic brain injuries from IEDs; Steve Baskis and Brad Snyder who lost their sight from IEDs; and Todd Nicely who lost his limbs from an IED. The warriors will share the sentiment that they did not “lose” their sight or limbs, but rather “gave” an arm, a leg, or sight–or endured brain injuries–as gifts to their country.
Amazed at the amount of sacrifice our nation’s wounded warriors have made, I wrote Courage in America: Warriors with Character to thank them by showcasing their strength of character. You will witness how these representative young heroes mustered the courage to successfully rebuild their bodies, minds, souls, and lives. You will see how these warriors, who displayed courage in battle, did not exhaust their courage in rehabilitation.
From my visits to the wounded warriors, I realized that after traumatic injury, it often takes more courage to live than to die. Making a successful recovery from traumatic war injuries was itself a measure of a man’s courage. My visits to the military hospitals brought another important insight. I learned that medical care is increasingly able to heal a warrior’s physical wounds but care to heal the psychological wounds of battle often is lacking. I learned that post-traumatic stress is real. Warriors need to talk about their nightmares and describe to others the vivid images of the carnage they witnessed in combat. Too often, because psychological issues are ignored, the returning military bury deeply many unresolved emotional scars simply because no forum exists for them to tell their story.
Because telling their stories of combat enables warriors to walk away from many of its aftereffects sooner, I have given seven men a voice and I hope you will listen to them. You can do so by purchasing a copy of Courage in America: Warriors with Character. All profits from this book will go to fiscally sound charities that support wounded warriors. I hope you will consider passing on a copy or two to an organization serving our wounded warriors.
From time to time readers of the Character Building Project offer contributions they would liked shared with our readers. Thanks to my pal Wayne in Wisconsin for sharing a Scottish History professor’s essay demonstrating the connection among the virtues of courage, liberty and spiritual faith with democracy…
In1887 Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years prior:
“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.
From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship.”
“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:
* From bondage to spiritual faith;
* From spiritual faith to great courage;
* From courage to liberty;
* From liberty to abundance;
* From abundance to complacency;
* From complacency to apathy;
* From apathy to dependence;
* From dependence back into bondage.”
The Obituary follows: Born 1776, Died 2012
My conversation with America’s Warriors with Character continues. The complete interviews can be found at http://thecharacterbuildingproject.com/warriors/. Just click the Meet the Warriors tab on the right. In this post, I listen and learn about how these warriors understand the virtue of courage.
The best kind of courage for Steve Baskis is when an individual risks one’s own life to save another. Steve does not believe courageous people confront more or less fear than people who lack courage. The difference is in how two persons manage a similar amount of fear. Steve believes people who are courageous push past the fear to accomplish something greater than them. For Steve, the courageous person could be acting without completely understanding the situation.
Justin Constantine echoes Steve’s view by relating the courage of Major Doug Zembiec, who, in his fourth tour in Iraq, was killed when leading a raid. Major Zembiec’s quick thinking to re-orient his team’s machine gun enabled the remaining members of his unit to accurately engage the primary source of the enemy’s fire saving the lives of his comrades. Justin also sees opportunities to exhibit everyday courage outside the combat context. For example, he asks, “How many times do we hear a boss announce a concept that we think is wrong, or hear other people in our office make derogatory comments about someone else’s belief system or ethnic/racial background? In each of these instances, it can take a lot of courage to voice your opinion and to correct these people.”
Justin further explains where fear intersects with courage. “Courage relates to a person standing up to danger, fear, or intimidation in spite of his or her fear, and without any guarantee of success or survival. The fact that they are confronting whatever it is in front of them–whether it is an enemy in combat or a discriminatory company policy–shows their courage.”
Chad Ellinger thinks of courage in terms of a victorious underdog. For Chad these kinds of stories seem to always exhibit how courage and timing can go hand in hand. Chad’s favorite examples of courage involve restraint. Some of the most influential people in Chad’s life demonstrated patience and were slow to make foolish decisions. The courage to “hold your fire” when things appear in disarray is something many people lack. In Chad’s opinion, the unspoken creed of courageous people is best captured by a quote of Ambrose Redmoon: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” A person with courage understands that overcoming fear associated with a courageous act is only a means to the end.
Sam Angert views courage as being instilled in military basic training and constantly was being reinforced by “following the reflection of the higher ranks.” Perhaps the most basic expression of military-trained courage Sam believes is the determination to “leave no man behind.” This theme of instinctively aiding a fallen comrade repeats itself in almost all the other interviews I conducted.
Chase Cooper agrees that the military slowly builds a warrior’s confidence and courage through training. However, Chase goes to great length to show respect for the courage of the enemy. Chase notes that there are differing perspectives of courage, from our point of view as well as from the enemy’s point of view. Although Chase disagrees with the extreme tactics of the enemy, he does grant it takes a certain type of courage to strap a bomb on yourself and detonate it. Chase is grateful for every courageous soldier from previous wars that have paved the way for today’s soldiers to be safer and more effective.
Similar to a view expressed by Justin, Todd Nicely acknowledges courage outside the context of combat. Within the context of the Marines, Todd acknowledges being trained to perform as a unit, always remembering, “you are only as strong as your weakest link.” Todd also speaks of the universal military understanding to never leave a man behind on the battlefield or in the rear. Todd admits of having run across few “ribbon chasers,” but he warns that no one will succeed as a Marine if he or she is in it for individual glory.
Whether or not the development of courage started in these warriors in early family life, it is clear to me that their military training further developed their courage. It prepared each to persevere and withstand danger they would face in Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing about courageous young Americans such as Sam, Chad, Chase, Justin, Steve and Todd, and learning about how they handled their ordeals can help us all better understand the virtue of courage.
In discussing courage and its role in leadership with my warrior pals, I have come to agree with Todd Nicely in his claim that “there are all kinds of courage.” Steve Baskis ranks courage almost at the top of the qualities needed in a good leader, and Chad Ellinger concurs with its importance. However, Chad also highly rates other leadership qualities such as integrity, decisiveness, and faith as equally important for effectiveness. Sam Angert emphasizes the mental aspects of courage by describing a good leader as one who can boldly anticipate next moves as if he were virtually playing out a game of chess. Chase mentions that military leaders must show both mental and physical courage by overcoming the fact that all soldiers have a “spirit of fear.” For Chase, focusing upon an important goal helps warriors to overcome fear. It empowers them to place themselves in danger for the good of a cause larger than themselves. Justin Constantine considers courage important beyond the battlefield as well. For him, it is a critical facet of effective leadership while in combat and is equally needed while recovering from traumatic injuries. Justin adds that, after battle, a wounded warrior must have the courage to “put himself out there” rather than “stay shuttered up inside.” For example, Justin explains that it takes courage to identify one’s weaknesses such as the effects of post-traumatic stress and to “seek the help needed.” Todd sums the discussion up by stating courage requires leaders to “step outside their comfort zones” and “stand up for what is right.”
In all the conversations with the wounded warriors, I was struck by one common core value: selflessness. All talked about taking care of their military buddies by placing the good of the squad, unit, or group above their own needs. No matter what nuance each brought to a definition of courage, they all agreed on one critical element: great leaders readily act for the good of others. At all times, they are willing to choose the “harder right” rather than the “easier wrong.” For military leaders, selfless decision making is the fruit of the virtue of courage, when exercised. This virtue is honed in all warriors by training them to focus first and foremost on the mission and achieve it’s goal– the greater-good.
Through my conversations with the wounded warriors, I noted that the virtue of courage they admired in their leaders is clearly evident in them as well. In fact, many displayed selflessness even before they enlisted in the military. Some felt called to respond to 9/11 and others to serve a noble cause. None spoke of joining the military because seething ambition drove them to advance their personal career. And after enlisting and being trained, each warrior willingly marched into the face of fear because they knew their fellow warriors shared their selfless values and would “have their back.”
May their courage sustain and bring them strength as they continue to recover from traumatic injury.
Over the last couple of years I had the rewarding opportunity of visiting our military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, first at Walter Reed Hospital, then later at Bethesda Naval Hospital. I was struck with the extraordinary character and maturity of many of the wounded warriors whom I met while volunteering there. There is a striking contrast in maturity when these heroes who have returned from war to rebuild their young injured bodies are compared to their college-age counterparts. Clearly, character development in the warriors occurred at a much faster pace.
I wanted to understand these young warriors better. I had many questions for them about the virtue of courage, before, during, and after battle. I found myself wondering just how does an 18-year-old teen come right out of high school, join the military, find himself in combat, and then, after a brief training period, have the courage to run toward the gunfire when commanded to do so? And even more amazing, after the war is over, how do these young wounded warriors who has suffering traumatic injury—and there are many– have the courage to successfully rebuild body, mind, soul, world? Is it possible for a warrior with courage in battle to exhaust his or her courage and be defeated in rehabilitation? Can courage be trained into a young warrior or is it in the genetic makeup of some and not others? What are the virtues that come to the forefront during war and then afterward, to get a warrior through rehabilitation successfully?
I suspected that there are many others like me who would like to hear from these young American heroes, so I have given their stories and their thoughts on courage a voice by creating a Web site for them: Courage in America: Warriors with Character. It is part of The Character Building Project.
Please visit the site at: http://thecharacterbuildingproject.com/
Over the next several weeks, the Character Blog will focus upon some thoughts about courage that come from my interviews with seven special wounded warriors.
You can listen to Todd Nicely’s incredible story of the courage it took to rebuild his life after losing both arms and both legs in battle:
You can hear Sam Angert explain his distinctions between physical and moral courage at:
Steve Baskis provides a thoughtful reflection upon the fine line between courage and foolishness depending upon the circumstances. Read about his take on courage at:
Justin Constantine points out that it takes courage after war to do a self-assessment and request the help needed:
Chase Cooper explains that courage is simply being ready to doing what needs to be done and it can be taught and even learned from others around you:
Chad Ellinger thinks that at times courage can show itself as restraint. Read his thoughts at:
Then share your thoughts with these heroes by commenting on the site.