Moral Courage

If you asked someone if they would risk their life to save someone they love, most people would say without hesitation, “yes of course!” But when it comes to everyday situations, such as standing up for a mistreated colleague or taking a position against gossip, most of us would pause and if we are honest, say, “it depends.”

Aristotle suggested that courage is both an end and a means for creating comprehensive good. From this point of view, a morally courageous person is someone who consistently makes decisions that are good for others despite personal risk.  This definition of moral courage suggests that what is right and wrong is a conscious choice.

When we experience a situation that conflicts with our beliefs or values, most of us begin the internal evaluation process, weighing the pros and cons of taking action. Depending on the type and severity of the situation, we go from a quick casual assessment to a more deliberate consideration of what we should do. This deliberation process evaluates the benefits of taking action with the risks or effort needed.  Even the most courageous of us have taken the well-worn path of rationalizing the situation and decide it's not that bad or accept we cannot make a difference.  And the reality is sometimes the best decision is to do nothing. But other times, our courageous action can inspire others to take action as well.

One of the barriers we experience in evaluating whether we should put ourselves at risk for the benefit of others is based on a flawed or biased assessment of the situation. For example, this internal evaluation usually over-weights the personal risks and underestimates our ability to make a difference. So, how can we even out this imbalance?   The reality is we can never be entirely sure that we are acting based on an accurate or non-biased assessment. But our mindfulness practice can help us find our moral compass and allow us to see the situation in a way that gets us closer to an objective, non-biased view of the right course of action.

When a situation arises that involves a challenge to your internal moral compass, it's an opportunity for you to reflect and make a conscious choice about your actions. Mindfulness is not a magic potion that transforms you into an all-knowing and all-wise being, but is a practical skill that can help rally the courage to live in alignment with your values and beliefs.


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