How Challenge builds Character

Building Character – Challenge

Don Philpott on April 4, 2014 at 5:50 PM

How do you build character?

This is the question addressed by Kurt Hahn, the originator of Outward Bound.

He developed sound principles that have remained largely unchanged in over sixty years of outdoor activity. Personal development allied to skills training in an outdoor setting. His function was to make young men fit for the rigours of conflict and the sea.


“Expeditions can greatly contribute towards building strength of character. Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim tells us that it is necessary for a youth to experience events which ‘reveal the inner worth of the man; the edge of his temper; the fibre of his stuff; the quality of his resistance; the secret truth of his pretences, not only to himself but others.'”

Kurt Hahn (1886-1974)

We often read articles about nature as a place to find “space.”

This function seems easy to explain, in an increasingly urbanised world we cluster in high density human groups.

We also read that learning outdoors teaches valuable life lessons

There is a key principle about challenge: that character is built through challenge.

Challenge we can intuitivly understand but what is “character”and how is it different from personality?

Character is defined as “mental and moral qualities distinctive to the individual”

Martin Seligman (1942-), professor of postive psychology, argues for the development of character “strenghts”.  He distinguishes between “traits,” which appear to be heritable characteristics and strenghts which are trainable.

Combining learning and outdoor spaces to develop character is a principle with wide application.  It could be argued that all education, training, learning and therapy has this focus. Within our focus of adventure therapy character often determines resiliency or “bounce.”

Resilence as a principle deals with the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Resilience is the flip side of character.  Optimism is the vector or direction of our thinking.  Who and what we choose to be is more often a test of our resiliency than our optimism and relies heavily on our strength of character. 

“It is the sin of the soul to force young people into opinions – indoctrination is of the devil – 


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