As with compassion, definitions of courage vary, but there are some common components. In terms of nursing practice, courage is probably best understood through the analysis of nursing literature undertaken by Hawkins and Morse (2014), which described courage as
‘ an inner strength or moral virtue fundamental to an individual’s capacity for caring behaviours or compassion, or the ability to cope’ (p265).
Hawkins and Morse conclude with the definition:
‘Despite fear for self and others, courage is ethical-moral “risk-taking” action(s) with the intent to ensure safe patient care’.
So, as Hawkins and Morse (2014, p267) point out, courage differs from compassion – it enables risk-taking actions.
Lindh et al (2010) undertook a theoretical analysis of ‘courage’, and identified four philosophical views:
Courage as an ontological concept
According to this view, courage is an inherent characteristic of being human. As human beings, we need courage to make day-to-day decisions. If a human being does not fulfil his/her moral duties or obligations, guilt may be experienced.
Courage as a moral virtue
The role of courage in ethics and moral life can be found in the work of Aristotle (384-322 BC), who viewed courage as a moral virtue (Lindh et al, 2010).
Courage as a property of an ethical act
‘Moral courage is grounded in compassion, sensitivity and recognising other people’s suffering’ (Lindh et al, 2010, p561). It is further concerned with recognising when something is wrong, and feeling the responsibility to respond. The opposite of moral courage would be a reluctance to get involved when someone is being unjustly treated.
Courage as a creative capacity
In having the courage to challenge the status quo, something new can be brought into being and so courage can bring about change.
‘Courage enables us to do the right thing for the people we care for, to speak up when we have concerns and to have the personal strength and vision to innovate and to embrace new ways of working’. (NHS Commissioning Board, 2012, p13)
Hawkins, S. F. and Morse, J. (2014) The praxis of courage as a foundation for care. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 46(4): 263-270
Lindh, I., Barbosa da Silva, A., Berg, A. and Severinsson, E. (2010) Courage and nursing practice: A theoretical analysis. Nursing Ethics, 17(5): 551-565
NHS Commissioning Board (2012) Compassion in Practice. Nursing, midwifery and care staff. www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/compassion-in-practice.pdf