The Two Sides Of Courage. Sometimes Doing Nothing Is Courageous.

Sometimes we need to act, sometimes we need to not act.

James E. McGinley, PhD
3 min readMay 21, 2022


Man walking alone on beach with footprints.
Photo by Ben Mack on Pexels

The world is socially complex and makes a lot of demands on us. This includes pressures to conform to all sorts of expectations from others. In the face of these pressures, we need to be strong and maintain our individual integrity.

We have to trust the power of our convictions, including our conviction to be ourselves.

Trusting, and being, ourselves takes personal courage. The tricky part is this.

Sometimes we need to have the courage to act, but sometimes we need to have the courage to not act.

What does that mean?

Before we look at courage, let’s consider its opposite. When we look at something’s opposite, it often provides illumination. The opposite of courage includes fearfulness, doubt, or weakness. It also includes being discouraged. We may both lack confidence in ourselves and also lose our energy to act.

The discouraged individual operates from the fear of failure, fear of a lack of acceptance, and does not have the confidence to be different or imperfect. The result is that the discouraged individual resorts to an exaggerated feeling of inferiority, simply discounting their own convictions in preference to outside pressure.

Courage includes taking action.

We often associate courage with bravery, or performing well in the face of danger. This is the courage of taking action. Sometimes we are under pressure to not engage, not participate, or not to stand up — even though we sometimes know we should. When we do act, and act well, we are courageous.

This is the nature of the bystander phenomena. We have norms and pressures to standby and not to engage. There are famous examples of crimes taking place where no one intervened, even though a life-saving intervention would have been simple. Sometimes, we just need to make our own decision and to act.

As a result of increased concerns over harassment, bullying, and social justice, there are now a variety of training programs for bystander training. Most of this training is focused on…



James E. McGinley, PhD

James McGinley, PhD is a professor, author, certified life coach, and licensed counselor.