What is Courage

Brad C. Anderson

What is the difference between courage and foolishness? Is a teenager who shows off by leaping off a bridge into unknown waters brave? Or, are they being an idiot? How about instead of doing so to show off, they leap to save a drowning child?

In the context of wise action, this textbook views courage as the taking of practical and deliberate action to achieve a moral end in situations that may be dangerous. The danger of acting may be to your life and health, as may be the case when firefighters run into a burning building or social activists resist an oppressive government. In other situations, the danger may be to your career or reputation, as is the case with whistleblowers, innovators, or people trying overcome resistance to a change in their organization.[1]

The emphasis on achieving a “moral end” brings to mind the importance of values, for it is our values that define which ends we believe are moral. If the ends we pursue are, in fact, moral, why is there a risk in pursuing them? If society shares our morals, it stands to reason that our society would support our actions and protect us from harm.

Yet, in many situations, taking action to pursue our values often retains an aspect of risk. The following section looks at social structures that constrain our ability to take moral action. Following that, this chapter explores structures that enable moral action within organizations and individual life.


Key Takeaways

  • This textbook defines courage as taking practical and deliberate action to achieve a moral end in situations that may be dangerous.

  1. Beyer, J. M., & Nino, D. (1998). Facing the Future: Backing Courage with Wisdom. In S. Srivastva & D. L. Cooperrider (Eds.), Organizational Wisdom and Executive Courage (pp. 65–97). San Francisco: The New Lexington Press.


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What is Courage Copyright © 2020 by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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