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What is Courage?

Dr. Joe Alton
February 27th, 2018
Comments (18)
Read by 1,723 people

This article was originally published by Joe Alton, MD at

Dr. Alton is the co-author of The Survival Medicine Handbook, an essential guide for when medical help is NOT on the way.

In the Parkland high school shooting in South Florida, just a few miles from my home, we saw the extremes of human fortitude in the persons of Coach Aaron Feis and Deputy Scot Peterson. Peterson, a trained security professional, stayed outside while a shooting was in progress in the area he was hired to defend. Feis, a man not charged with the safety of others, protected them with his body at the expense of his own life.

I have thought about the idea of courage often; my writings on disaster preparedness presuppose that a certain amount is necessary to be resilient in the face of adversity. Yet, can a person really know what they will do when faced with a decision that can cost them their life?

Some just naturally run towards the sound of gunfire, while others naturally run in the other direction. The Department of Homeland Security recommends going the other way in their “Run, Hide, Fight” triad for active shooter events. There are those, however, who will run towards danger. Many of these individuals are or were in the military, law enforcement, and fire/emergency services.

Examples might be hitting the beach on D-day, running into the World Trade Center on 9/11, or perhaps the nurse who ran into the building to help victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. In many of these instances, they knew they were in danger, but went above and beyond.

Rebecca Anderson, RN, died attempting rescue victims of the Oklahoma City bombing

Rebecca Anderson, RN, died attempting to rescue victims of the Oklahoma City bombing

Courage takes other forms as well. If you were, for example, the first African-American student in an all-white school district during the civil rights era or the first woman cadet in a military academy, you’ll never have to prove your bravery and determination to me in any other way.

You might think courage is an inborn virtue, constant over a lifetime. I’m not sure about that. I, personally, was a fearful little boy, then became a (stupidly) fearless teenager. I eventually morphed into an average adult. Now, in my golden years, I may have more of a tendency to head towards the sound of gunfire; after all, what have I got to lose at this point? Sit me in front of a doctor telling me that I have cancer, however, and that might be a very different story.

Then there’s the fortitude it takes to re-invent yourself. I don’t consider myself to be particularly courageous. After I retired from the active practice of medicine, I was tempted to take up golf. It was something I had tried years before but was, frankly, terrible at. Instead, I decided, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to write a blog about preparedness. That led to writing books, podcasts, a YouTube channel, and an entirely different career all about teaching others to survive natural or man-made disasters.

It’s hard to teach courage, but you can foster motivation in people. If people are taught the importance of something, they might be more apt to defend it. Loving something deeply also gives you the motivation to be brave in its defense. I can’t think of something more important than the lives of our young people. Coach Feis realized this, and acted accordingly.

Is courage contagious? Fear certainly is. If 50 people around you drop to the floor at the sound of gunfire, you might do the same. If those same people run towards the sound of gunfire, you might, too, although it puts you at risk. You might consider this foolhardiness rather than courage (Homeland Security does), but, where a gunman is concerned, you’re more likely to stop the killing by doing something other than laying on the floor in plain sight.

many founding fathers lost their entire fortune by their decision to support the patriot cause

Many founding fathers lost their entire fortune and some their lives by their decision to support the patriot cause

Speaking of fear, courage is not the absence of it, but. rather, the overcoming of it. There is physical courage and there is moral courage. Our founding fathers were men of wealth and privilege, and it would have been very easy to support remaining a colony of England. But they realized the importance of freedom, and put their fates and fortunes on the line to bring forth a new nation.

Activism is a form of courage, but courage is not just the act of speaking up; sometimes, shutting up and listening to opposing viewpoints takes fortitude as well. If more people would sit down and listen to each other, we might come more easily to agreement on a lot of today’s controversies. This takes more courage than keeping a closed mind.

If we are to be resilient in the face of adversity, it is courage, above all other virtues, that will make it possible. If we are to survive as a society, it will be because of the fortitude and strength of our citizens to pick up the flag, so to speak, and move forward. That goes for active shooter incidents and it goes for every obstacle you face in life.

Joe and Amy Alton are the authors of the 3 category #1 Amazon Bestseller “The Survival Medicine Handbook.  See their articles in Backwoods Home, Survival Quarterly, and other great magazines. For over 900 articles on medical preparedness in wilderness, disaster, or other austere settings, go to their website at The opinions voiced by Joe Alton, M.D., and Amy Alton, A.R.N.P. are their own and are not meant to take the place of seeking medical help from a qualified healthcare provider. All email content sent by the Altons are copyright DoomandBloom llc, 2017, all rights reserved.

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Author: Dr. Joe Alton
Views: Read by 1,723 people
Date: February 27th, 2018

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  1. Menzoberranzan says:

    Being afraid but doing it anyway.

  2. My own personal belief is that people are just put together differently. Not everyone can or will run towards danger, even if they know it is the right thing to do. Why does that one marine throw himself on an exploding handgranade to save his comrades? It’s sort of like buck fever. You just can’t do what should be done. Fortunately, most of us are never tested.

  3. “Mein Kampf”, Hitler’s autobiography is titled “My Struggle” which refers to his fear of combat during his time in battle during the First World War; and his struggle to overcome fear in order to function. He received three awards as a soldier. He was wounded twice and was recognized for bravery on the battlefield.

    Under Hitler, Officers led in battle during the Second World War, in which an unprecedented number of Officers died alongside enlisted men.

    I would say, that’s what Hitler admired, courage.



  4. Steadfast says:

    Courage is the action of walking through your fears, doing what is right despite being very afraid of the consequences of doing so.
    Courage is not talk, it is action.

  5. Dr Alton you sir are on Point and the why Should be Self-evident to all but the why is poolitical correct speech which has infected many with calling an hyphen-american a PATRIOT.We the People is a opening line to our Constitution and before it was written American Patriots where NOT FIGHTING TO BE CALLED BRITISH americans. My fellow American read ,study your mission statement The DECLARATION Of INDEPENDENCE.Everything in the Declaration in some form has again found its way to the light of day ,sure the names change not Tactics.

  6. southside says:

    Thank you,doc Alton.

  7. yep'n'nope says:

    What is courage?

    It is crapping and pissing yourself and doing what you have to do.

  8. Sean says:

    I’ve seen courage, under fire, and all it involved was staying put for five minutes rather than running.

  9. Sean says:

    I will add that if you are a cop or a soldier, and you do not run to the sound of the guns and engage the enemy, you lack courage. Those cops in Florida had none, being soldiers of allah (spit) first.

  10. Nlightened2 says:

    “Without courage there is no virtue. “

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