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Kurt Hahn: Five Pillars

The Outward Bound Trust was founded in 1941, based on the educational philosophies of Kurt Hahn. Education was Hahn’s passion, and he saw it as essential to developing and maintaining:

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

You’re quite right. These aren't phrases we use everyday in the modern world. But at Outward Bound we still base our practices around Hahn’s Five Pillars, helping young people to channel these qualities in the real world. Does that make us dated? We've translated them into plain English below, so you can decide for yourself...

Enterprising curiosity

Think creativity, resourcefulness, or critical thinking. It is about being open to learning new things and to question 'why?' We know that these are the kind of skills and qualities that employers are looking for in their future workforce, yet they are not always encouraged in the modern education system. Young people need to follow their questions beyond simple answers, applying and connecting knowledge, for authentic learning to happen. Unsurprisingly, developing young people’s enterprising curiosity is pretty high up on our agenda.

Indefatigable spirit

This is a weird one, but literally translated into ‘unable to be fatigued’ it makes perfect sense to us. Sometimes things go wrong, fail, and are disappointing – especially for young people trying to navigate transitions through education and work. 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 (and we know you’re all familiar with that one).

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 the learning journey. It helps to build self-confidence and create independent learners. Having tenacity in pursuit sounds like something we want more of.

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 the group 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. So, this initially non-sensical pillar really boils down to self-awareness and self-regulation, communication and teamwork. This definitely gets a thumbs up from us.

Compassion

This was the most important pillar in Hahn’s opinion, and ours 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 for young people to see their own growth and worth, and develop self-acceptance. Only then can they achieve their 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. These Five Pillars were conceived in 1941, but we're convinced they're as relevant in today's world as they were in his.

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

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