Most of you have caught on by now that it is no coincidence that I am writing about Virtue at this pivotal time of choices about our future. Of course, I had lots of help, for truly, I feel that the Graces have been leading this journey all along, and knew exactly how to time this discussion.
So what can the world’s wisdom traditions teach us about Virtue? As I mentioned yesterday, the four classic Greek virtues are courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance.
In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes every virtue as a balance point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait. The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a “golden mean” closer to one of the extremes than the other. So in the virtue of courage, for instance, it would be a balance between cowardice (the lack of courage) and foolhardiness (an excess of courage), and would be a little closer to the latter.
The Tao Te Ching also names courage as a virtue, but states that the source of courage is love (“loving causes the ability of bravery”) and explains: “One of courage, with audacity, will kill. One of courage, but gentle, spares life. From these two kinds of courage arise harm and benefit.
Similarly, in the Tarot, the Trump card “Strength” is a depiction of this combination of inner fortitude and courage, but outwardly handled with a gentle touch. The Lady tames the beast, not by overpowering it with force, but with love.
Mark Twain reminds us that “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
And Funk and Wagnalls defines courage as “that quality of mind or spirit enabling one to meet danger or opposition with fearlessness, calmness and firmness.” Having a quality of mind or spirit is, of course, not a one-time event; it is a habit that is cultivated in big and small ways on a daily basis. It is true, though, that our biggest test may be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
So courage does not apply only to bravery of soldiers, firefighters and others who are in physical harm’s way. It applies to all of us as we face the personal challenges in our daily lives. Life can be tough, and things don’t always go our way. It takes courage to stand up and face things head-on.
We have seen many players on the world stage in recent years swaggering about, rattling their sabers, safely backed by incomprehensible might of arms and wealth. Is this true courage? Might not true courage more closely resemble the wise warrior’s reluctance to wage war? Might it not be seen to have love guarding and guiding it from behind?
What is fortitude? How do truly brave men and women deal with conflict, setbacks, opposition, and loss? What does the habit of strength actually look like? Where do you see examples of real courage and strength?
This leads us to tomorrow’s discussion of wisdom, another of the classic virtues.