Courage is the virtue that relates to how we deal with pains, and with fears of pain.
Practicing doing thing that are painful or that frighten us, would seem to be the sensible way to grow in courage. And there’s something to that.
For myself, I think what I’ve found in the past (and I have to confess that I haven’t enacted this with any sort of consistency) is that what gives the most powerful boosts of courage, most quickly, is to think about pain. Hold what pain is in the mind’s eye, and look it straight on, without blinking.
When we don’t think directly about pain, but only “around” it, seeing it only in the periphery of the mind’s eye, we cannot help thinking it is worse than it really is. We know it is something we’re naturally averse toward, and that feels like all we need to know. All the more reason not to think about it directly.
But when we do think about it directly, we realize that pain isn’t really what we fear. There are much worse things than pain, and pain is a comparatively small price to pay for something we really desire. By thinking about pain without shying away from the thought of it, pain loses its power to frighten.
Such an exercise makes pain and fear fade into insignificance, for as long as the memory of the exercise is still fresh enough that it can be easily recalled. This clarifies for us in a marvellous way what sorts of things we should really have an aversion to, when we see with a sense of proper proportion.
The tricky thing about bravery, of course, is that it can be put either to good ends or to evil ones. People can feel so ashamed of being called cowardly that we can assume by implication that all bravery is as such a good thing. But being brave, aggressive, ruthless in the service of ignorance or selfishness or prejudice is not truly courage.
Courage is about being willing to do what we know is the right thing, even if fear holds us back from it, even if pain is the price of it. That’s a virtue worth striving for.