Courage: Its Nature and Development

By Goud, Nelson H. | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Courage: Its Nature and Development


Goud, Nelson H., Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development


Courage is presented as the energizing catalyst for choosing growth over safety needs. A content analysis of the literature reveals 3 dimensions of courage: fear, appropriate action, and a higher purpose. Guidelines and strategies for developing courage are described.

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Several schools of psychology point to a basic tendency underlying all growth. Maslow (1968, 1971) called it the self-actualizing tendency; Jung (1968) called it individuation; Homey (1950) called it a drive toward self-realization. Carl Rogers (1961, 1980) described this force accordingly,

   Whether one calls it a growth tendency, a drive toward
   self-actualization, or a forward-moving directional tendency, it is
   the mainspring of life ... it is the urge which is evident in all
   organic and human life--to expand, extend, become autonomous,
   develop, mature--the tendency to express and activate all the
   capacities of the organism. (1961, p. 35)

   The actualizing tendency can be thwarted or warped, but it cannot be
   destroyed without destroying the organism. (1980, p. 118)

According to these theorists, there is an inherent force directing growth. Why, then, is there so much difficulty in achieving full growth, wholeness, or self-realization? Rogers (1961) contended that the growth tendency will not flourish without unconditional positive regard, empathy, and authenticity from significant others. Maslow (1970, 1971) proposed that there are prerequisites to self-actualization in the form of basic need gratification and a firm values framework. In addition, Maslow (1968) maintained that the growth tendency is counteracted by the safety impulse:

   Every human being has both sets of forces within him. One set clings
   to safety and defensiveness out of fear, tending to regress
   backward, hanging on to the past ... afraid to take chances, afraid
   to jeopardize what he already has, afraid of independence, freedom
   and separateness. The other set of forces impels him forward toward
   wholeness of Self and uniqueness of Self, toward full functioning of
   all his capacities, toward confidence in the face of the external
   world. (p. 46)

A gap is created whenever growth forces encounter equally powerful safety forces (fears). If growth is to proceed, then this gap must be leaped.

The energizing catalyst for choosing growth over safety is courage. Courage allows one to effectively act under conditions of danger, fear, and risk. Without courage, the individual or group remains stuck in existing patterns or immobilized in fear. Rogers (see Rogers & Stevens, 1971) stated it in this manner,

   It is the quality of courage which enables a person to step into the
   uncertainty of the unknown as he chooses himself.... It is not an
   easy thing to have the courage to be, and clients shrink from it at
   the same time as they move toward it. (pp. 42, 46)

Maslow (1991) said,

   The difference between the diminished individual, wistfully yearning
   toward full humanness but never quite daring to make it, versus the
   unleashed individual, growing well toward his or her destiny, is
   simply the difference between fear and courage. (p. 120)

Because courage is given a pivotal role in growth, it is of great significance to understand its nature. The purpose of this investigation is twofold: (a) to present a conceptual model of the dimensions of courage and (b) to describe guidelines for developing courage. A variety of disciplines were examined for their views on courage: military history and research (W. Miller, 2000; Rachman, 1978), schools of psychology (Ellis, 1995, 1998; Frankl, 1984; Maslow 1968, 1970, 1971, 1991; Rogers, 1961, 1980; Rogers & Stevens, 1971), literature (Hemingway, 1932/1960, 1939/1969; Tolstoy, 1999), and philosophy (Aristotle, trans. 1987; MacIntyre, 1984; May, 1976; Thomson & Missner, 2000; Tillich, 1952/2000). …

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