What Bravery Means

“As Cicero says, we hate gladiators if they are quick to save their lives by any means; we favor them if they show contempt for their lives.”


In explaining and illustrating today’s quote, the author of The Daily Stoic gives a couple of examples from Lyndon B. Johnson’s life, where the former president of the USA is portrayed in a less-than-flattering light. They’re stories where Johnson chose to preserve his own skin rather than follow the path of dignity and duty. I’m not an expert in this part of history, but I believe Johnson thankfully made up for it with his later acts of service to his country.

The meaning of the quote above, however, is clear — we don’t like cowardice, and acts of shameless self-preservation. We don’t like it when people take every opportunity to save themselves.

By contrast however, we love it when people disregard their own safety to save someone else. We idolize people who put it all on the line — selflessly and without regard for personal loss or sacrifice — to do the right thing. These are the heroes that our public consciousness becomes fascinated with, and the ones who receive endless press coverage and Oprah interviews.

These are the ideals that our society holds in high esteem. This is what bravery means. Courage over cowardice. Dignified duty over sheepish self-protection. Disregard for our own lives in the service of saving others.

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