“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”

– Mark Twain

King Solomon once stated, “there is nothing new under the sun.” It seems the lack of moral Courage among leaders was as common in Mark Twain’s day as it is in our day. This is not a political rant. Now it may be a rant, but I am going to focus on waking up CEO’s, middle managers, parents, and any adult outside of politics. Frankly, I am tired of political rants.

Physical Courage is inspiring to watch. Watching the first responders and volunteers in the Houston area during the flooding from Hurricane Harvey gives me chills. The physical Courage soldiers and law enforcement officers show when bullets begin to fly makes young children want to wear a uniform and serve others.

Moral Courage is another level of Courage. Rarely do acts of moral Courage make the headlines. It is more likely that acts of moral cowardice get highlighted by the media. Most of us will avoid the negative media spotlight in our lifetimes. But some recent examples of moral cowardice include:

  • The manipulation of fuel efficiency data and the subsequent cover-up by major car companies.
  • College athletic departments’ attempts to hide player misconduct to include battery and rape.
  • The prosecutorial misconduct of lawyers and law enforcement in the Steven Avery case in Wisconsin.

Everyday Moral Cowardice

It is easy to look at the examples listed above and point fingers and shake our heads. But let’s be careful. We may not be in the news, but are we always exercising moral Courage?  What about:

  • Staying silent when someone at work cuts a corner.
  • Staying silent when the boss asks for feedback.
  • Avoiding the anger of a spouse by telling a lie.  (FYI. White lies, fibs, and half truths are LIES.)
  • Not challenging a peer about their behavior or attitude.
  • Allowing a difficult employee’s attitude or behaviors to hurt the team.
  • Not correcting a child because of the potential for a tantrum.

Ouch!  I can honestly say I have failed before in all six of the situations above.

Everyday Moral Courage

Few of us are called on regularly to exercise physical Courage.  But we are all challenged to exercise moral Courage each and every day. Courage is a habit. Each time we choose Courage or cowardice it makes it easier to make that same choice again.  That is how habits are formed.

To become a person who has strong moral Courage, we have to choose to exercise moral Courage consistently. We don’t get in shape by reading a fitness magazine or exercising once a month. Nor will we strengthen our moral Courage if we only read about Courage or exercise Courage periodically.

The Bottom Line:

Our society needs leaders of moral Courage. Yes we need them in politics, but we may need them even more in our everyday lives. We can all make choices daily that will strengthen our Courage. 

My rants about politicians seem empty when I stop and compare many of my choices to theirs. The only way they are different is in media coverage.

The point is, if I continue to give in to moral cowardice in my daily choices, the damage to my character is similar to what happens to a politcian’s character. Besides, we have absolutely no control over whether anyone else chooses moral cowardice or moral Courage. The only person whose choices we control are our own.

Do we spend as much time analyzing our own choices as we do the choices of others?


What other challenges to our moral Courage should we all be prepared to face? 

Dave Anderson is coauthor of the Amazon Best-Seller Becoming a Leader of Character – Six Habits that Make or Break a Leader at Work and at Home with his father General James L. Anderson (USA Retired).

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