It is usual to speak of courage as of two kinds – physical and moral courage; and the distinction is sound, for a man can have one without the other. By physical courage, we mean the courage to face danger to the body – pain, wounds or death. By moral courage we mean the courage to face ridicule, public disapproval and hatred for the sake of what we believe to be right. A soldier who can face unflinchingly bayonets and shells may be unable to face the laughter of his companions; he is a moral coward. And there are men who dare to defy public opinion for conscience’s sake who are cravens in the face of physical pain, they are morally brave but physically cowards.
It often takes a lot of moral courage to tell the truth. Lord Bacon once said that a man who tells a lie is a coward towards man but brave towards God. He means that a moral coward is more afraid of offending man than of offending God by telling a lie. It is sometimes unpleasant duty of us to tell our friend about his faults. We are afraid of him getting angry. It is also a kind of moral cowardice. A true and morally brave friend will do his duty, whatever the consequences may be thereafter.
It is very unpleasant to be laughed at, especially by people whom we like and respect, but in some circumstances, we are sure to be ridiculed, if we do or say what we think is right and if we do or say it in spite of ridicule, then we are morally brave.
Indeed it takes a great deal of moral courage to stand alone, to go against public opinion; to rouse opposition, contempt and hatred by daring to do what is right. The political speaker that tells the public unpleasant truths, the statesman who brings in necessary and just but unpopular measures, the prophet who proclaims his message to an unfriendly world are all men of moral courage.
Physical cowardice may be nervous weakness but moral cowardice is a fault.