Living the Sweet Life: One of 12 Virtues, the First of Which is Courage

By Alisa Murray
Nationally recognized
portrait artist and
award-winning columnist.

This year marks my 15th anniversary writing my column Living the Sweet Life. This year also marks my 50th birthday.  As a way of reflection and remembrance, this year’s Sweet Life will be a continuous study of Aristotle’s 12 Virtues and how they are applied to my life. 

Lessons learned in life come from many different experiences. Some leave lasting impressions that then influence the ways we perceive and react to the world. One hopes in a lifetime to master many virtues, and the way we do this is through experiences. Aristotle wrote of 12 virtues, the first of which is courage.

There are many different types of courage depending on the sources you research, but generally, it is said that we have six types of courage. Physical courage is helping someone in harm’s way or sacrificing oneself in times of war for one’s country. Social courage is demonstrated through leadership and through taking a stand for what is right, despite the consequences. Intellectual courage involves knowing right from wrong and our willingness to speak out on topics. Moral courage is similar because often times by not following the crowd, we find ourselves alone and in a wake of disapproval. Emotional courage occurs when we fall in love and leave ourselves vulnerable to the possibility of being rejected. The last type, and perhaps the most challenging in thought, word and deed, is that of spiritual courage. This is when we question our faith, our purpose and what we are doing while here on earth.

Alisa with her mom the day her sister came home.

After having now lived a whopping 50 years, my life has come to a point where quiet reflection is necessary and welcomed, so that where I may have gone can be examined, and where I am to go next might be revealed in a more thoughtful way. The blindness, and some might say stupid, decisions of youth are now a thing of the past, and a more purposefully directed course of action in my daily life desired as I now make my way through my back 50.

Upon the reflection of this first virtue, I am decidedly not much good at physical courage. I don’t like war, and I know I am not capable of rescuing someone from a burning house, but I do know that if I saw a burning house with a person or an animal in it, I would go tearing in to try to save whatever poor soul needed to be rescued.  I just thankfully haven’t ever had the chance to have to test this in the field, so to speak. Social courage has not been hard for me as I have always desired to be the leader. I can remember setting the standard for what behaviors I would or would not tolerate in my friends, and I can continue to say proudly that I have never done nor will I ever partake in illegal drugs, and I do not make friends with those who do. Yes, I am a fuddy duddy and a proud one at that.

My intellectual courage I can be certain has wavered through the years, and despite my best efforts to stand by what I stand for, I am guessing like most of you, sometimes it’s easier to fail in courage rather than to create an unnecessary fight over whatever the subject may be – from the right way to make a sausage ball to who should become our next president. Seeing the forest for the trees and avoiding the collision when nothing good would come from stirring the pot is somehow for me a showing of intellect, even though not very courageous. I am proud of this accomplishment now in my older age as I used to be so eager to fight a good fight and winning was ideal. I now know winning is in keeping one’s mouth shut, because truthfully, deep down, what I know doesn’t have to be proven to anyone, and at this point, so many are not listening anyway.

I was born with moral courage and more than once it has gotten me into deep waters – like when I lectured a student who at my Christian boarding school was Buddhist about not taking the blood and body of Christ. Or, when I gave way to lecturing about how to properly parent a grieving child. Or, when I set out to point out disparities in the treatment of myself and that of my siblings to my parents.

I am a pro at emotional courage. Despite knowing all of the possibilities of disaster in falling in love, I completely gave myself to Brian 32 years ago. When my children came, I completely gave myself to them, and through the years, there has been few disappointments and not much heart break, because love and courage completely win every single time.  There are no exceptions to this truth.

Spiritual courage is the biggest and baddest of all six types. Having spiritual courage is where over the first 50 years, I have worked daily to achieve. Leading a life that sets examples of being the best you can be for both yourself and your family is indeed a hefty task, such as staying faithful to hope in the face of fear when mommy was killed in what seems like a lifetime ago, and staying close to God in the face of my nephew’s unthinkable suicide.

Life is full of challenges. Some days I have been the most feisty and fierce, while others I have been resigned and not very courageous at all. Steve Jobs said, “And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” I am just so grateful to have lived long enough to contemplate where I have gone and know where I am going. Do you?

Take Care of You!