Nahanni's Thought of the Day: Building the Virtue of Courage

Guest Post

NTD: Perhaps there is a hierarchy of virtues, and they are not equivalent in terms of value, usefulness, or survival benefit. I have generally believed that the virtues of compassion and empathy are primary, from which all other virtues flow. This is influenced by my Christian training, for the two great commandments of Jesus were to love God and love one's neighbor. These virtues are cardinal for our vertical relationship with God, but also for the health of horizontal relationships with others, and these virtues must exist if we are to exercise proper humility. The virtue of integrity is a derivative of compassion, although it is considered more of a conscientiousness virtue than a warmth virtue. The reason that we don't lie, steal, or cheat is rooted in part in empathy for our neighbor, yet it is also linked to identity (i.e. an individual may take great pride in the self-assertions, "I am not a person who tells lies," or "I will never cheat," or "I do not, and will never, steal.") These virtues may rest in the sense that there is some ideal or spiritual force higher then, and creative for, the self. This higher level governs the centrality of both compassion and integrity, and thus they are well-supported as cardinal virtues and I have highlighted them in my mind. But is this sufficient?

I have believed that compassion may be the only essential value. However, I have traditionally been selectively inattentive to the virtue of courage. While training our children to be compassionate yields them a meaningful life-- one with depth of character, spiritual meaning, and depth of intimacy-- compassionate persons are often those who suffer greatly in this life. Therefore, compassion must also be girded around with courage. When we teach our children, students, and athletes courage, we help them to survive. Courage can help us to muster the motivation to excel, it underlies being honest even when we will face punishment or consequence, and it is essential for bravely facing the decline of the body and mind, and the grief of varied loss, that is part of the aging process. Ultimately, courage will be what allows us to face death-- the inevitable end of the physical self. Therefore, we must teach courage to the next generation. Survival depends on it.