Courage is a person’s choice to get involved in defending his highest principles, even when his personal interest isn’t at stake. Courage isn’t pragmatism, a determination to get involved only if it enhances a person’s position, power or wealth, rather, as Gus Lee, author of Courage, wrote,
“Courage doesn’t depend upon practical outcomes, risk versus gains analysis or collateral impact on others – that’s pragmatism. Pragmatism is the application of practicality, utility and consequences to decision making.”
Courage is principle-based, driving leaders with courage to sacrifice personal benefits in order to uphold the greater principle at stake. Winston Churchill, the legendary English Prime Minister, emphasized,
“Courage is rightly esteemed to be the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
Lee writes further,
”Courage is addressing wrongs in the face of fear, regardless of consequences of risk to self, or of potential practical gains. That’s why everyone practices pragmatism and risk balancing…Courageous leadership is about utilizing all of our brains, character and spirit to advocate principles regardless of the odds, heedless of fear, apart form collateral impact, and independent of personal career needs.”
How rarely does on see leadership of this caliper today?
Les Csorba, in his book Trust, describes the debilitating effects of pragmatism,
“When we follow leaders without a moral compass interested in only results, get ready for the ditch. The ditch into which modern leadership has fallen is the pit of pragmatism.”
Many confuse compromise with pragmatism, but Stephen L. Carter, Yale Law School professor, succinctly describes the difference: “Compromises that advance high principles are acceptable, those that do not advance high principles are not.”
Pragmatism, then, is compromising one’s highest principles for short-term personal advancements.
—Orrin Woodward, from Resolved: Thirteen Resolutions for Life