What is Moral Courage?

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

This is the fourth in the “Six Types of Courage” that we will explore in-depth. We hope you’ve already had the chance to read over our page called “The Six Types of Courage” for a brief overview of our definitions.  The examples we give for each type of courage may apply to your children and/or to you please keep in mind, when you are reading this post, that some of these examples may involve taking “baby steps” on your way to moral courage!  Every step towards courage is worthwhile and important.

Moral Courage

“He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.” Leonardo da Vinci

“Perfect courage means doing unwitnessed what we would be capable of with the world looking on.” La Rochefoucauld

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their mind to be good or evil.”  Hannah Arendt

Moral courage  means doing the right thing even at the risk of inconvenience, ridicule, punishment, loss of job or security or social status, etc.  Moral courage requires that we rise above the apathy, complacency, hatred, cynicism, and fear-mongering in our political systems, socioeconomic divisions, and cultural/religious differences.  For parents, it frequently requires us to put aside compelling but momentary pleasures or comforts in order to set a good example for our children and  be the parents we aspire to be.  Doing the right thing means listening to our conscience, that quiet voice within.  Ignoring that voice can lead to feelings of inadequacy, guilt and diminished personal integrity.  Moral courage requires us to make judgments about what actions or behaviors are supportive of our highest ideals, and which ones are destructive.  It asks us to recognize our responsibilities and see the consequences of our own actions.

For inspiring true stories, ways to recognize and coach  moral courage in ourselves and our children…READ ON!
History is full of shining examples of moral courage whom we rightly celebrate: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Aung San Suu  Kyi and many others.  When we see people put their safety, security or reputation on the line for a cause they believe in,  or for an ideal that matters more than personal comfort, we see moral courage in action.

Here is a video from TED.com that gives great examples of moral courage and demonstrates the importance of overcoming the fear of failure.  The speaker is author J.K. Rowling, and the speech is 21 minutes long.  We were surprised and inspired by what she had to say.

Moral courage looks like:

  • helping someone push a car out of a snowbank, even if it means being late
  • standing up to a bully on the playground
  • picking up litter
  • doing homework or chores without being reminded
  • refusing to listen to or repeat gossip
  • practicing what you preach, even when no-one is looking or knows
  • turning in a toy or a wallet to the Lost and Found
  • a teen who calls home for a ride from a party where alcohol is being served
  • a teacher who gives all students an equal voice regardless of race, socioeconomic status, religion, gender or sexual orientation
  • a company whistle blower risking job loss, financial cost, and or legal repercussion
  • reporting a crime
  • participating in a peaceful protest

Lack of moral courage looks like:

  • walking away from someone in need
  • taking more than your fair share
  • laughing at someone’s misfortune or accident
  • grabbing the spotlight from someone who has earned it
  • placing too much reliance on the letter rather than the spirit of the law
  • remaining silent in the face of wrong-doing or injustice
  • rationalizations or justifications for action/lack of action
  • being inconsistent or capricious with rules and standards for our children
  • choosing sides after seeing which way the wind is blowing
  • breaking a promise
  • lying or cheating

Moral courage sounds like:

  • “I believe strongly in _________.”
  • “That joke was offensive to women/Muslims/the disabled/etc.”
  • “Let’s volunteer.”
  • “Dad, I’m in trouble.”
  • “I am going to campaign for __________.”
  • “It’s not fair that ____________.”
  • “I broke this, Mom.  I’m sorry.”
  • “I’ll march with you.”
  • “No, thanks, I don’t want to hear a secret!” 
  • “You shouldn’t talk behind her/his back.”
  • “Will you sign this petition?” 
  • “You can depend on me.”

Lack of moral courage sounds like:

  • “It’s none of my business.”
  • “She got what she deserved.”
  • “That’s got nothing to do with me.”
  • “How could you do this to me?”
  • “It’s not for me to judge.” *
  • “I only did it once.”
  • “This is all your fault!”
  • “Just let it slide.”
  • “There’s no use trying to change the system, it’s just too strong.”
  • “Nobody else is doing anything about it, why should I?”
  • “I might get into trouble.”
  • “Don’t make waves.”
  • “Nobody ever gives me a break.”

* as a way to shirk personal responsibility.

    Grab Some Lion’s Whiskers!
    Here are some tips for developing moral courage for you and your kids:

    • role-play losing a toy, ask your child to imagine what it would feel like if nobody returned the lost item
    • show good sportsmanship and request your children to do the same
    • be a good loser and a good winner
    • offer ethical dilemmas to discuss at the dinner table; here are some conversation starters: is it ever okay to steal? lie? cheat? If you’re driving home at three in the morning and there’s no traffic for miles around, is it okay to go through a red light?  Is tattling on someone good or bad?
    • choose a charitable cause to support as a family
    • beware self-righteousness!  we all stumble and fall sometimes
    • be a good listener to your kids; if you have their trust they are more likely to come to you when there’s trouble
    • let your kids, especially your teens, know that you’d rather hear it from them 
    • tell a story about a mistake that you made and what you learned from it
    • tell a story about your biggest flop; be sure that enough time has elapsed that you can find some laughter in it!
    • share stories that show people making difficult choices

    What are your ideas about moral courage, your parenting tips to promote it with kids, or your favorite moral courage story (fiction or non-fiction)?  We’d love to hear from you!

    Here are other blog posts related to moral courage: Helper & Guide, David & Goliath, Getting to the Heart of Courage , Healthy Attachment Between Parent and ChildFenrir: Big, Bad Wolf,  
    The Path to Courage: Irena Gutowa’s Story ,
     Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale Retold, Hard-Wired to Care: You Matter in the Moral Life of Your Children, Raising a Good Citizen of the World, Using Moral Courage to Navigate Facebook and other Social Jungles

    Here’s more on the types of courage:
    What is Physical Courage?
    What is Social Courage?
    What is Intellectual Courage?
    What is Emotional Courage?
    What is Spiritual Courage?

    One thought on “What is Moral Courage?

    1. Jennifer Armstrong

      Wow, thanks for the words of support, Abhi and gmat1984!We really appreciate your comments.

    2. Robert

      This is a hero post!
      I want to share this quote with you:
      "It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare." ~ Mark Twain

    3. Lisa Dungate

      Thank you Robert for taking the time to comment! We, too, love this quote and have used it previously on our blog. Blessing to you on the courage journey!

    4. Anonymous

      this is the only one i could find after a few hours of searching and turns out…its epic!! thanks!!


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