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When it smells like courage, it’s courage

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in Workplace Communication

Semblances of virtue are not pure virtue, the philosopher Aristotle said.

An action may look good and produce the right outcome, he argued, but there’s something lacking in intent. As a matter of fact, the whole thing could be a fake.

But what about courage?

Aristotle lists five semblances of courage that are driven by:

1. Fear of shame or desire for honor. He calls this civic courage, which is close to the genuine article, but he still thinks this kind of courage is not motivated by its intrinsic worth but instead by pride or ego.

2. Experience and skill in facing the danger. Hey, if you’re good at talking down gun-wielding lunatics, that still counts as courage in our book.

3. Spirit, fury or rage. Well, not level-headed or wise, and possibly misdirected, but certainly not fake. Still, this kind of motivation is probably more about anger than courage.

4. Optimism about your chances. Perhaps this is only a semblance of courage, but isn’t it more accurately part of the calculus that goes into deciding exactly how courageous you will be?

5. Ignorance of danger. Yes, and quite often this works out in favor of our courageous and wonderful hero.

Verdict: If it looks like courage, smells like courage and acts like courage, it’s courage.

— Adapted from The Mystery of Courage, William Ian Miller, Harvard University Press.

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