Courageous or Heroic?

While many claim that courage and heroic are synonymous, commingling them as such does a disservice to the concept of courage. Firefighter Captain Mary agrees, “People notice heroes dealing with disaster and emergency responses. When a civilian dials 911 for help, it’s a day from hell for his/her life. But, it’s no big deal to me. I don’t appreciate it when my career is integrated or associated with disasters much less heroism. I am a skilled professional doing my job.”Everyday courage

Most of the time, courage is misapplied to focus on fictional drama or soap opera sagas, unrelenting sorrow, sensationalism, famous people or the historically deceased. For the rest of us, notions of courage as only extreme heroism diminish the opportunities to claim and display the heartfelt value of courage in us all.

The word “courage” comes from the French word corage, meaning “heart and spirit,” which tells us that acting with courage is really about acting from your heart and spirit — from the center of your being. “Being” reveals your true Self.

Below are a few distinctions to discern between everyday courage-centeredness and heroism:

  • The word courage is interpreted more frequently in the media as the word heroic. Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Princess Diana are known as heroic images. Washington D. C. is a virtual shrine to heroes. During the annual review of September 11, 2002, CNN featured “Courage Under Fire” about the loss of naval personnel at the Pentagon.
  • Two contemporary examples of heroic actions were the United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed into a farmer’s field outside a small town in Pennsylvania, and the heroic responses we watched on television during the World Trade Center terrorist attack.
  • A PGA golf tournament commentator referred to a challenging golf shot by Tiger Woods this way: “Tiger’s going for another courageous shot!” This statement implies risk-taking or “going for it.”
  • May 3, 2003 at the Kentucky Derby identified the race as a “Courageous race.”
  • Tori Murden McClure (who rowed the Atlantic Ocean solo) was known as a hero.
  • A quote from the movie about the winning horse Seabiscuit: “It’s never their feet; its right here” (points to his heart—this is where true courage lives).
  • Christopher Reeves was a contemporary story of amazing physical courage. A spokesperson for the advancement of paraplegics walking, he was determined to walk again. To ensure we kept informed about his progress and intent, his son produced a documentary called “Courageous Steps” for ABC television (9-18-02).

Examples of these various events challenge people to reexamine their entire lives and values. Soon you learn to differentiate between being courageous in everyday life and being a hero. With increased courage consciousness you also begin to recognize the facets of courage such as physical courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, individual courage, emotional courage, moral/ethical courage.

Learning a new skill, balancing work and family, or transitioning to a new industry is rarely celebrated as stories of amazing courage. Everyday courage has been relegated to the mundane. Isn’t that a shame? We should be in awe of the heroes of amazing stories…and of our neighbor’s everyday courage as well!

Photo: Courtesy of Hubspot

Sandra Ford WalstonSandra Ford Walston is known as The Courage Expert and innovator of StuckThinking™. Featured on the speaker circuit as witty, provocative, concrete and insightful, she has sparked positive change in the lives of thousands of leaders each year. She found that there is a direct correlation between your success quotient and your courage quotient.

She is the internationally published author of bestseller COURAGE The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman, the follow-up book The COURAGE Difference at Work: A Unique Success Guide for Women and FACE IT! 12 Courageous Actions that Bring Success at Work and Beyond. All three books are on based on over 20 years of original courage research. Sandra is certified in the Enneagram and MBTI® and she is a certified Newfield Network coach. Please visit

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