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A Lesson from a Titan with Colonel Ardant du Picq on Courage During Crisis

Jan 6, 2021 | Organizational strategy, Short-form

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Courage against a greater foe. How does one come by such fortitude? Can you teach someone how to have courage during crisis? If so, how do you train for it? And how do you develop it in your organization or among the men you know?

In recent months, the will to act in the face of fear has greatly been on my mind. On one hand, in 2021, there’s men I know who walk around like children scared of the cooties, although no viral threat is forthcoming. And by all measures, their lives are as easy and responsibility-free as you can get.

On the other hand, there’s the woke brigade of Antifa members, for instance. And they seem quite ready for violence. In their mobs, they find the cloak of anonymity, but also, the drunkenness of crowds and raw power. You could say that they seek to enact crisis and manifest fear in others.

Where then do you and I find ourselves as we balance on this razor’s edge of a society?

More today, from Colonel Ardant du Picq, on action and courage during crisis …


But how can this be? Hasn’t the self-help and corporate industries assured us it’s all about leadership? And don’t they say everyone’s a leader?

In reality, military organizations have repeatedly found that men are willing to rush into danger, even certain death, for a simple reason. And it’s not necessarily bravery—the character of being fearless of danger—but it does reveal courage—the committed action even in the face of fear.

What is this often-overlooked reason?

Each other. That’s it.

And it’s not ideology. It’s often not even patriotism alone nor anything else. But instead, it’s a desire to not let down the other man beside you. And it is a powerful motivator.

Even so, it makes perfect sense. But first, another brief quote from the Colonel…

[The soldier] loses [his closest companions] in the disorienting smoke and confusion of a battle which he is fighting, so to speak, on his own. Cohesion is no longer ensured by mutual observation.

Or put another way: in the visceral, very real fog of war—the extremes of crisis—you will no longer be able to see and ensure your compatriots are beside you. In truth, you will be alone. And yet the most persuasive drive is your bond together to one another. And it is enough to overcome any defects in bravery, even to inspire the most heroic acts of courage.

And think about it for a moment: beyond all the self-help strategies or leadership mantras, there is the undeniable logistics of force and power, even violence. You only need ask who you would really want “guarding your six” to see it. Do you choose a fearless man you don’t know or the man you’ve forged a bond with, however imperfect his rise to action might be?

Trust through mutual familiarity. And mutual risk. That’s the secret to creating men of action. And of forging courage in crisis.

Yet, you obviously need some sort of external force to direct this action forward. The pangs of hunger that require you to catch dinner, in one example. Or an enemy at the gate, in another. After all, there must be the possibility of danger present to define bravery and courage.

Still, societies where men’s lives are atomized and isolated, such as ours, are unlikely to breed these experiences that give rise to men of courage. In this case, courage being something most men are likely to learn overtime with other men, a very small tribe they bind themselves to in a contract of trust.

Also worth noting is an observation by Kolditz, Millen, and Potter in Why they fight: Combat motivation in the Iraq war. And that’s how you could increase the chances a military force would surrender by disrupting these primary groups—these bands of brothers—within that force.

An interesting observation when applied to our times.

After all, it’s no coincidence that Antifa is allowed to run wild while the managerial class strips whatever is left from the US economy. And leaders from groups like the Proud Boys, lead by an Afro-Cuban, are made examples of for minor, bureaucratic offenses as politicians, on both sides, scream about hidden Hitlers in our midst.

The likely key here in our societal moment, when it comes to better strategic positions, is to look at which movements and groups are more likely to be bands of brothers. And which put effort to strengthening those bonds far away from institutions or the quick gains of political power. Most importantly, it also matters how those bonds are being tested.

But summed up for today: to win against any foe, first start with the man you’ve decided to let stand beside you. Make sure before you go to battle, you have spent solid time together and know each other very well.

And make sure that you face danger, not only aligned to a cause or together as men.

But that you also face it for each other.


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