The Mother of All Virtues


It’s been said that courage is the point at which all other virtues are tested. And indeed, there are not many virtues that will not be tested at some point and in some way.

Our patience, trust, kindness, compassion, perseverance, and other personal virtues will hit that wall, push up against that moment, that set of conditions or that person who will push you to the edge.

It will be at that moment that particular character trait will be tested. We will be tempted to compromise, behave poorly, relax our standards and violate our own values. Or you will exercise courage in the face of difficult circumstances and prevail, staying true to what you believe is right.

It is for that reason that courage is considered the mother of all virtues because at its testing point, courage gives true birth to the character trait that had until then only been an untried value statement.

Superman has no Courage

Hollywood conveys the wrong image of courage too often. We see fearless superheroes jumping head first into all kinds of perilous confrontations. But in reality, that’s not courage.

If there’s nothing to fear (because you stop bullets, race trains and jump over tall buildings), then just what need is there of courage? I’ve never exercised courage chewing gum or brushing my teeth, not even once, because there’s never been anything to fear about chewing gum or brushing teeth.

Courage is not the absence of fear.

It is, however, the willingness to risk injury (emotional or otherwise) to do what needs to be done despite, or in the face of, the risk. It is to fear and walk into the fear because it’s the right thing to do. That is true courage. To do what you don’t fear doing is no test of virtue.

But to venture out away from your comfort zone, to wander into unfamiliar territory where moral convictions and values are tested, where hearts sink and resolve weakens, that’s when courage puts on its best show.

Incremental Courage

Courage is always easier when exercised when the temptation is smallest, in its infancy. Start there and build.

So next time you’re faced with a moral dilemma and you’re feeling weak, look deep inside for the strength to stand firm.

There, buried right next to your resolve and your will, is the courage you’ve been looking for. Brush it off and shine it up and use it liberally next time you feel tempted to sacrifice your integrity for more immediate, less noble forms of gratification.

This is the testing time. This is when courage was meant to shine.

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