Courage to Do the Right Thing: Get Free, Speak Up, & Keep Going

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Courage Is Calling" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you let fear keep you from doing what’s right? What if you didn’t let fear stop you?

It’s important not to let external pressures prevent you from doing what’s right for yourself and others. Whether it’s about speaking up against societal injustices or doing the best thing for your kids, you can learn to turn fear into action.

Continue reading to learn how to muster the courage to do the right thing.

Break Free From Convention

In Courage Is Calling, Ryan Holiday argues that one of the main forces preventing us from having the courage to do the right thing is the fear of the possible negative consequences of breaking societal expectations. We often make choices based on our fear of what others will think of us—for example, not wearing a certain outfit because we’re afraid people will stare.

It can be difficult to resist the power of convention, but courageous people continue to follow their purpose even when every external force tells them to stop. Don’t let anything stop you from following your own path—you might miss your chance for greatness.

How to Stop Caring What Other People Think

Though Holiday emphasizes the importance of being your authentic self even if doing so leads to shock or backlash from others, he doesn’t give much concrete advice about how to do this. In You Are A Badass, Jen Sincero offers some tips for how to stop caring what other people think.

Assess your motivations before speaking or taking action. Are you doing something to gain the approval of others, or are you coming from a place of truth and strength? Try to act from a place of honesty and integrity at all times.

Try your best. It’s easier to be swayed by the opinions of others in moments of insecurity, which often come when you haven’t put your all into something. If you try your best, you have no reason to worry about what others think.

Allow your intuition to guide you. You—not other people—have a built-in sense of what’s best for you. Learn to listen to your gut, and make your decisions based on your instincts.

Speak Against Injustice

Holiday asserts that true individuals won’t let anyone prevent them from speaking the truth. There are injustices in every society and in every time period, and a courageous person will seek to expose them and rectify them. They’ll speak up against tyranny. They’re willing to be loud, difficult, and unreasonable according to society’s standards, and they keep fighting even when their reputation, their safety, or their well-being is threatened. 

We can draw from the past for examples of courageous individuals. Throughout history, many artists, writers, journalists, politicians, and other everyday citizens stood up against injustice and spoke the truth, frequently at great expense to themselves. These people were often alone in their convictions at the start. They had to stand firm in their beliefs until the opinions of their society caught up with them. 

(Shortform note: As Holiday states, we have much to learn from courageous people of the past. You can connect with brave figures throughout history by studying their words, their lives, and their actions. Read their writings and their biographies, watch documentaries about them—learn as much as you can about who they were. This kind of study can offer inspiration for your future courageous actions.)

How to Fight Injustices as an Everyday Citizen

As Holiday says, courageous people work to fight injustices in society. However, with all the stories of suffering and inequality we see in the news and on social media, it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out the best way to help. Here are some ideas for easy ways you can support causes you care about:

• Educate yourself about the issues and the background behind the cause (how others have fought this injustice in the past).
• Share and reshare content about the cause on social media. This is especially helpful for sharing valuable educational resources (as long as the information is accurate).
• Donate money to organizations fighting for your cause, and put your money toward work that makes your community better (when you can).
• Donate your time as a volunteer to your favorite organizations.
• Attend peaceful protests speaking out against injustices in your community.
• Exercise your civil rights—sign petitions, vote for propositions, and vote for candidates that align with the interests of your cause. 

Keep Going Even in the Face of Opposition

When you try to do the right thing and you’re met with opposition and danger, Holiday encourages you to keep going. Hard as it may be, being courageous means making the right choice anyway, regardless of the consequences. You may feel alone for a while, and people may think you’re strange. Still, in the end, you’ll have succeeded because you stayed true to what you know to be morally right.

For example, maybe your company is ignoring safety concerns about one of your products, and they say they’ll fire you if you tell anyone about the situation. The courageous action would be to take your concerns to a higher authority or expose the issue to the media to prevent your company’s product from causing further harm. This might affect your career and your livelihood in the short term, but you’d prevent untold levels of future suffering. 

How Courage Leads to a Happier Life

According to Stoic philosophy, the only way to achieve happiness is by pursuing a virtuous life. Therefore, even if doing the right thing causes you social rejection and suffering in the short term (as Holiday suggests here), you’ll be happier for it in the long run.

Additionally, in his foundational Stoic text Meditations, Marcus Aurelius teaches that no external forces—including the negative consequences that come from making a courageous choice—can hurt you unless you allow them to. It’s the resulting emotions, like anger and grief, that cause you to suffer, and you can decide to reject these emotions. The only thing that can truly hurt you is something that hurts your character. Therefore, if you compromise your integrity by choosing not to do the courageous thing, you’d really be hurting yourself.
Courage to Do the Right Thing: Get Free, Speak Up, & Keep Going

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  • Ryan Holiday's advice for how to be courageous in any situation
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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