Courage is a big deal. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Unfortunately, many of us misunderstand what it means to have courage.

Notice that Lewis says courage is only important insofar that it enables other virtues. It is not necessarily a virtue in and of itself for if other virtues are lacking, it can do more harm than good.

That is what we fail to understand.

Conservatives throw the word around but misinterpret it. It has come to mean loud obstinance. Borderline recklessness. A “courageous” person is, nowadays, someone who does not care that he is a pain in the neck. But this is only headstrong pride masquerading as courage.

There is a time for loud obstinance and a time for being a pain in the neck. But we are conceited to believe courage entitles us to “speak our mind” no matter the occasion. Simply being bull-headed does not make anyone courageous.

The reason we need other virtues–real virtues–to counterbalance courage is that we can easily “courageously” do the wrong thing.

Conservative influencer Alex Stein “courageously” compliments AOC’s “big booty” to her face. He “courageously” wears women’s swimsuits to city council meetings and shames veterans. He has got a whole lot of nerve. But he is immature and stupid, and his “courage” goes to waste. 

Call out AOC. Call out the insanity of transgenderism. But do it with a little class, decency, integrity, and statesmanship. Without these virtues, we will become reckless idiots of useless courage.

SEE ALSO: C. S. Lewis and Chronological Snobbery

In his book The Road to Character, author David Brooks points out that World War II veterans commemorated the end of the war with quiet humility and somber remembrance. “Today… our deep-down feeling is one of humility,” Bing Crosby said on a radio program that aired the day after V-J Day. Someone else commented: “I hope that in victory we are more grateful than proud.”

After listening to the meek broadcast and pondering the self-effacing demeanor of the Greatest Generation, Brooks writes that he turned on a football game. “A quarterback threw a short pass to a wide receiver, who was tackled almost immediately for a two-yard gain. The defensive player did what all professional athletes do these days in moments of personal accomplishment. He did a self-puffing victory dance, as the camera lingered.”

“It occurred to me,” the author continued, poignantly, “that I had just watched more self-celebration after a two-yard gain than I had heard after the United States won World War II.”

These war heroes–mere boys at the time–understood courage better than we do. They understood that there is something noble about heroism that goes unspoken, uncelebrated. They stormed beaches, were fired at, watched their friends die in the line of duty, and were more self-effacing about their courage than Alex Stein is about his.

SEE ALSO: The Left Wants You To Care About “Don’t Worry Darling.” Here’s Why You Shouldn’t.

It is astounding to the modern mind how few WWII vets wrote autobiographies. They were men of deep integrity and felt little need to tell the world about it. They bravely stood in the way of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan yet touted their praiseworthy accomplishments less than Lizzo lauds her immense weight.

From actors to athletes to porn stars, everyone writes autobiographies these days (see for reference 
The Little Book of Lizzo, a pompous compilation of the self-infatuated pop star’s “most iconic quotes”). We bring film crews with us on our humanitarian mission trips. We proudly inform the world every time we do something remotely philanthropic. We naively assume that courage will buy us respect and approval; it will make us the center of attention. But if it does, that is only a byproduct, not the aim. Often, it does the exact opposite.

Mike Pence was a popular conservative statesman–until January 6, 2021. On that fateful day, his personal integrity was tested; he passed the test but lost his base’s respect and approval. “Hang Mike Pence” became the foul cry of a crowd that had only weeks earlier voted for the man they now built gallows for! The temperamental president he had faithfully served for four years turned his back.

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It was not cowardice that cost Mike Pence a future in politics: it was his courage–the courage to do what he knew in his heart to be right. He made the hard decision to go against the demands of his mercurial boss and paid dearly for it.

“A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions,” C. S. Lewis added to the aforementioned quote. “Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”

This goes to show that the man of integrity does not behave courageously because he seeks praise or recognition. He will do what is right and tell no one. His heroism is often discreet. Often costly. He will go to war or make war against his selfish inclinations to cheat, steal, or celebrate himself, and be content to know that God–if no one else–is keeping a perfect record.

Let us cast aside our refractory approximation of courage and replace it with the Greatest Generation’s definition of the word: a stubborn, unyielding determination to do what is right no matter the cost.

That is the kind of courage this world so desperately needs.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.

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