Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.
When I read this one, as a huge fan of Maya Angelou, I accepted it at face value, and presumed I knew what “the virtues” are. But, before I took the time to muse about it, I thought it might be wise to double check my list…. And low and behold, the 7 virtues are not always the same. It depends on who was listing them…..
|When Pope Gregory defined the seven deadly sins that we should avoid, he also included a counter-balancing set of values that we should espouse and adopt. These are: 1. Faith is belief in the right things (including the virtues!). 2. Hope is taking a positive future view, that good will prevail. 3. Charity is concern for, and active helping of, others. 4. Fortitude is never giving up. 5. Justice is being fair and equitable with others. 6. Prudence is care of and moderation with money. 7. Temperance is moderation of needed things and abstinence from things which are not needed. The first three of these are known as the Spiritual Virtues, whilst the last four are called the Chief or Natural Virtues. The Natural Virtues had already been defined by Greek philosophers, whilst the Spiritual Virtues are a slight variation on St. Paul’s trio of Love, Hope and Faith (due to variation in translation from the original: Charity and Love arguably have a high level of overlap).|
So, sometimes looking things up gets a bit more complicated, because courage was not one of the virtues, but to Maya’s point specifically, without courage how might one face up to and live by these moral values?
Courage is formed deep within. It is a concept. That concept builds inside of us as we are growing up and it blossoms in a host of ways. When we are very young, courage shows up in our attempt to walk for the first time. And from that moment forward, it grows.
It can be curated in an individual through proper parenting and conversely, can be thwarted through bad parenting as well. We encourage children to be brave. We model it whenever we can and hope that these are making parental imprints on the child.
Ultimately, as we venture from the home, life gives all of us a huge bath of reality. Enough to wipe away any remnant of courage that was first experienced… so how is it that courage prevails?
I think it is a concept. That concept grows within us. Courage catapults us into doing all sorts of things that we are afraid of doing from going to the dentist to trying out for a team or position, asking someone out on a date, to aiming for a career that is intensely challenging, and so on. Each dose of positive reinforcement that we acquire through our prior bravery bolsters our courage, and lays support for the next time we must summon it to shore us up in a moment of weakness.
So whether you are practicing the spiritual virtues, or the natural virtues, they are all rooted in courage. As Maya shares, it truly is the most important because without it, practicing any of the others becomes infinitely more difficult.
So the next time you have trepidation about doing something, just remember that there was a point in your life where all you knew how to do was crawl, and somewhere you found within you the courage to get up off all fours and stand up. That seems to have worked out pretty well for you, so perhaps summoning the courage to take on what is giving you anxiety at the moment is just what you need at this moment in your life.
Stand up and go for it!
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