The Opposite of Courage Is Not Cowardice; It Is Conformity

Rollo May? Earl Nightingale? Jim Hightower? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Uncommon or unconventional thoughts and behaviors can elicit hostility. To avoid estrangement many people consciously or unconsciously conform to societal expectations. Pursuing an individual path requires bravery and determination. Consider the following adage:

The opposite of courage isn’t cowardice; it’s conformity.

This notion has been attributed to psychologist Rollo May, motivational speaker Earl Nightingale, and political commentator Jim Hightower. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1953 book “Man’s Search for Himself” by Rollo May. The vocabulary and thought were present in the following passage, but the expression was not compact. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The opposite to courage is not cowardice: that, rather, is the lack of courage. To say a person is a coward has no more meaning than to say he is lazy: it simply tells us that some vital potentiality is unrealized or blocked. The opposite to courage, as one endeavors to understand the problem in our particular age, is automaton conformity.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Opposite of Courage Is Not Cowardice; It Is Conformity


  1. 1953, Man’s Search for Himself by Rollo May Ph.D., Chapter 7: Courage, The Virtue of Maturity, Quote Page 225, W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified with scans)