In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines courage as the determination, fortitude, to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.
Everyone has his/her own perspective on life, and it’s subject to change. In the course of living, uncomfortable and painful disagreements and conflicts are unavoidable. We all live under the lingering weight of psychic and spiritual scars and pain from perceived injustices we’ve endured or inflicted on others, criticisms, disappointments and degrees of failure.
Enduring discomfort shows up as fear. Fear of criticism, embarrassment, humiliation, disgrace, rejection and/or abandonment. Fear resides as an amorphous clump of imagined personal weaknesses in an ominous dark cloud hanging over life.
Some unpleasant experiences will regularly recur. When they do it’s tempting to play it safe and not risk rocking the boat and making things worse. We’re capable of going to astounding lengths in denying having been wronged by others and/or being wrong or mistaken ourselves. We attempt to disguise and carefully protect our hurts and perceived weaknesses.
Habitually avoiding rather than dealing with existential discomfort is like drifting downstream on a lazy tributary of learned helplessness. Along with hoping to have our imagined inadequacies not be discovered, we’re hoping to accidentally end up in a better place. Somewhere. Sometime.
So how to know what is the right thing to do?
There is no perfect answer or formula for arriving at it. Like many if not most of life’s judgments, the best you can do is come up with a reasoned estimate.
Sometimes the right thing automatically presents itself. Sometimes it’s best to include trustworthy others in your deliberations. But in due time you will know what the right thing is for you to do.
When is the right time for courage to show itself? Again, there is no formula for deciding or perfect answer. Immediate personal safety needs to be a consideration. But fears of embarrassment and disgrace are merely momentary pain that must be faced and either avoided once again or dealt with and found to be imagined.
Aristotle describes courage as appearing appropriately and spontaneously. Deep down you will know what is the right thing to do and the right time for doing it. They will converge.
The right reason for doing the right thing is straightforward. Without changes, the burden of psychic and spiritual pain will only continue growing and becoming more oppressive as life’s challenges keep recurring.
Aristotle holds that continued practicing of virtues like courage becomes pleasurable habits that help accomplish life’s ultimate goal of happiness or contentment. Discovering the right thing to do and right time and reason for doing it comes from deep in the soul, as if aided by a higher power.