Kurt Hahn: Five Pillars
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Kurt Hahn: Five Pillars

At a time of unprecedented uncertainty we all need courage, kindness and compassion more than ever. We thought it would be good to share with you the philosophy from one of our founders. Kurt Hahn was an educationalist whose Five Pillars are as relevant today as when he created Outward Bound in 1941, in the midst of the chaos of the second world war. The pillars are:

  • An enterprising curiosity
  • An indefatigable spirit
  • Tenacity in pursuit
  • Readiness for sensible self-denial
  • And above all, compassion

These aren't phrases we use every day. But at Outward Bound we still base our practices around Hahn’s Five Pillars. Our aim is to help young people to learn these qualities and use them back in the real world. So what do they mean in plain English?

Enterprising curiosity

This is about creativity, resourcefulness, or critical thinking. About being open to learning new things and to question 'why?' We should follow questions beyond simple answers, applying and connecting knowledge.

Indefatigable spirit

This literally translates into ‘unable to be fatigued’. Sometimes we’re faced with the unthinkable, things go wrong and we fail. When things don’t quite go to plan it is important to be able to take stock and try again, not internalise the failure and give up. This pillar really gets to the heart of what it means to be resilient.

Tenacity in pursuit

This one is linked to resilience too. It’s about having the grit to follow through and complete a task – even when it’s really hard. It’s more than just sticking to task, it’s about being diligent, overcoming challenges and self-evaluating. It helps to build self-confidence and create independent learners.

Readiness for sensible self-denial

This could be one of the most important pillars. In today’s world of instant gratification and self-promotion, this is about putting our own self-interest behind the needs of others in order to achieve a goal. It is about being aware of ourselves and those around us, communicating effectively to understand each other’s needs and capitalise on each other’s strengths. It is also about self-regulation – being able to focus on long-term goals without succumbing to distractions and therefore controlling our emotions and behaviours.


This was the most important pillar in Hahn’s opinion, and in ours at Outward Bound too. It is about being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to see commonality and connection over and above difference. But it also refers to self-compassion – today’s world is so strongly focused on self-doubt and self-criticism, it is important to see your own worth, and develop self-acceptance. Only then can you achieve your full potential.

So, there you have it. Hahn may not have used words we are all familiar with, but he definitely knew what he was talking about. Outward Bound may have begun in 1941, but the philosophy we were built on is as relevant in today's world as they were in Hahn’s.

For more info on our impact check out our Social Impact Report.

Further Reading