Let us be brave in the face of adversity.


The past few weeks, we have been examining the four primary Stoic Virtues. We previously discussed Wisdom and Justice. We continue our exploration of the Stoic virtues by turning now to Courage. 

The history of Stoicism—from Zeno of Citium through Admiral Stockdale—is filled with stories of exceptional feats of courage. The Stoic concept of Courage is not much different from the contemporary concept. Courage is bravery in the face hardship. It is the preservation of your values when it would be easier and more lucrative to succumb to the temptations of the world. It is continuing on the path when it becomes rocky. Courage is facing life when all the odds are stacked against you.

The Stoics understood the importance of Courage for living a good life or, really, any life at all. Seneca said “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” Every time you think you have reached your limit but then will yourself to keep going, that is Courage. 

Just as with Justice and Wisdom, some people think Courage is the most important virtue. Maya Angelou explains why:

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Maya Angelou

I have shared my thoughts in my previous posts. I believe it is a fool’s errand to rank the Stoic Virtues because they are all interrelated and essential. Virtuous Courage requires Wisdom, Justice, and Temperance, but in the absence of these three Virtues, Courage will bring about harsh consequences. It would take a certain amount of courage, for example, to perpetuate an ongoing and elaborate fraud. In such a case, the fraudster is demonstrating the vice of courage by not using the virtues of Wisdom, Justice, and Temperance to avoid clearly unethical behavior.  In short, courage without the other three may, and likely will, lead to negative outcomes for individuals and society.

As an attorney, how much do you rely on Courage everyday? When your application of Wisdom tells you the client’s proposed action is incorrect, or worse, illegal, how much Courage does it take to tell the dependable client all the risks of that action? When a senior partner hands you more work than you can possibly get to in any reasonable amount of time, how much Courage does it take to say no is service of Temperance? When the virtue of Justice tells you that the extremely unpopular client coming to you for help needs your services, how much Courage does it take to accept the client? If we are truly acting in accordance with our Stoic and Legal Ethics, we must practice Courage with nearly every decision. Are you up to the task?