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Those Times We Call on Courage

By Tove Dahl | Published: January 22, 2018

You know the feeling. You really, really want to do it. It's important to you. It matters. At the same time, it's risky. It's something you are unsure about, or perhaps have never done before. You have real concerns about whether you can actually do it. 

A child stands on a ten-meter diving board.
To jump or not to jump. Watch
this Swedish Film, Ten Meter 
, to get a sense of the 
courage it takes to leap off a ten-
meter high dive. 

And then, at some point, you either 

step away


take the leap.  

You know the difference. 

You know that sinking feeling of walking away. You may have the skill but lack the self-confidence to even try. Or you may convince yourself you'll never have the skill it takes and therefore see no point in ever trying at all. You also know the thrill of taking a chance and coming out fine. Your confidence to walk into the unknown improves, and you develop the skills to dare to do it again. You feel invigorated. Capable. Maybe even courageous.

What Is Courage?

Taking a chance in the face of an uncertain but noble outcome is what courage is all about. It's the difference between wanting something (that's motivation) and actually going for it (that's courage).

Courage is big, so we are wowed by people who dare to risk injury or death through deeds of physical courage. They may dare to help someone who is drowning or pull someone out of a fire, all at their own personal peril.

We are also wowed by people who dare to risk social exclusion through deeds of moral courage. They may take a stand on something controversial that goes against the mainstream or blow the whistle on unseemly practices.

These risk-takers are the kinds of people who are the darlings of authors, film-makers and journalists. Indeed, they have been featured in the thoughts of great philosophers like Aristotle, Confucius and Sartre. Why? Because the deeds of courageous people stand out—as if almost superhuman.

But there is another, everyday kind of courage that we often don't see in others—even when it takes place right before our eyes. 

We know it when we engage in it ourselves. It is that intense desire that sends a racing pulse through our veins, releases a kaleidoscope of butterflies in our stomach, and arouses an awkwardness that can muddle what we strongly wish to say or do. This is the moment when getting through the situation demands personal courage.  

Recently, researchers have looked more carefully at this often invisible kind of courage. Together with my students at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, we are exploring the role of courage in university learning, in leisure activities and in travel. Although the range of situations in which our study participants have felt the need for courage is vast and varied, the way they feel after they have chosen to heed the call (or not) is remarkably similar.

By successfully taking on the uncertain and unknown in all kinds of situations, we grow. When it takes courage to do so, we grow all the more. When we do so with the support of others, we are even more likely to try again.

Children stand in a lake at sunset, holding torches.
Experiencing Norse mythology at Skogfjorden
late at night can take courage in the aura of
suspended disbelief. 

Each summer I actively apply what I’ve been researching and analyzing throughout the year to my work at Skogfjorden, the Norwegian Language Village. As Village dean, I have innumerable opportunities to witness how our program impacts participants and staff on a daily basis. It’s clear that at the Villages, we inspire people to be courageous world citizens. That means inspiring people to take on personal challenges that matter for the kind of world they wish to live in and the kind of world citizen they strive to be.

What takes courage for me may not take courage for you. For me, it might take courage to speak in another language in which I don't yet feel confident, while it might be easy for you. For you, on the other hand, it might take courage to talk to someone from another part of the world, while it might be easy, or even exciting, for me. 

At the Villages, we deliberately create a safe learning place where opportunities to practice deeds of personal courage abound. We value and support acts of courage towards deeds of world citizenship. Each one brings us closer to creating the dynamic and forward-leaning world in which we wish to live. Each leap also brings us closer to living how we wish to live as individuals and members of our greater community.  

You know that feeling of taking a chance on something that matters to you and coming out better on the other side. That's the power of practicing personal courage, and that feeling is right at home in the deliberately supportive environment of Concordia Language Villages. 




About the Author

The author, Tove Dahl, on a hike.

Tove I. Dahl is dean of Skogfjorden, the Norwegian Language Village. She is also an educational psychologist and professor at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. At the heart of Tove’s research is where learning, motivation, language and culture meet.  Recently her focus has been on the topics of interest and courage and what it takes to arouse and maintain them in settings as diverse as along the open road of The High North, while traveling in foreign countries, and inside university classrooms.

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