The 4 Types of Courage

Recently I saw a documentary about a guy called Dean Potter.  Dean is a mountaineer who specialises in an art called slack rope walking or ‘slacklining’ for short.  Simply put, this is a sort of tightrope walk between peaks on a mountain, often with no safety line or parachute.  See him in action here.

For mere mortals like us, this level of courage seems to border on the superhuman.  But before we get too down on ourselves, please remember one point – there are different ways to be brave.  In fact, according to the positive psychology “classification of character strengths”, there are four.

“Courage – Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal

  1. Bravery [valour]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it
  2. Perseverance [persistence, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks
  3. Honesty [authenticity, integrity]: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions
  4. Zest [vitality, enthusiasm, vigour, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated”

Another source suggests that these four types might be best personified by the examples of  my wife’s hero, Ernest Shackleton; John D. Rockefeller;  Sojourner Truth and the Dalai Lama respectively.  And not a ‘slackliner’ among them!

So if you think you aren’t brave, and could never be brave, maybe you need to expand your view of what bravery really means.

Sometimes brave is saying what you want.  Or finishing those night classes.  Or getting up out of bed to face the world with a smile on your face.

Slacklining is optional.  :)

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  1. Thanks for the comment writerlyderv. I think it takes a form of physical courage too though prior to (for instance) standing up against a workplace bully. Where do you feel the fear before such a confrontation? The stomach, throat, chest or – for me – the legs!

  2. I especially like the “exercise of will” idea. To me, that means that courage is possible.

  3. A healthy approach to bravery. Too much emphasis is put on physical courage at the expense of other less sexy types of bravery.


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