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Virtue: Confidence

20th October 2021

HOM: Taking responsible risks


“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence’.

(Helen Keller)


Aristotle taught that a virtue lies between two extremes: one of excess and one of deficiency. For example the virtue of courage or bravery lies somewhere between cowardliness (deficiency of courage) and rashness (excess of courage leading possibly to death!).

In the case of confidence as a virtue, it lies between being timid and fearful (deficiency) and boastfulness or grandiosity (excess).

Somewhere in the middle (think Goldilocks!), lies an attitude of character that is ‘just right’, although it needs practice to get it ‘just right’ according to the situation we find selves in.

Fortunately although some people seem to have confidence more naturally than others, like all virtues it can be learnt. Alain de Botton writes; ‘Confidence is a skill, not a gift from the gods. And it is a skill founded on a set of ideas about the world and our natural place within it. These ideas can be systematically studied and gradually learnt, so that the roots of excessive hesitancy and compliance can be overcome. We can school ourselves in the art of confidence.’

And in his ‘School of Life’ ( that among other things, is what he sets out to do.

To develop any virtue Aristotle taught that, just as in learning a musical instrument, it takes practice. That means challenging ourselves by taking responsible risks (HOM) so that we can build up our confidence in new or less familiar situations and develop our skills in order to best manage them.

Last term many Wychwood students met new challenges on their residential weekends which helped to develop their confidence physically, socially (in working with others) and personally. Others took part in the performing arts evening, not everyone’s comfort zone. And next week the lower school face school examinations and this too offers challenge but through proper preparation students can develop the confidence to have a go and do their best.

We can also learn a virtue through observing good examples of the virtues we wish to develop. In other words by looking at role models from whom we can learn.

As a good musician will learn from the best musicians, so we can learn confidence from those who have that virtue in abundance.

So confidence is something to practice, a skill to be developed, rarely a natural talent. It also comes from meeting personal challenges, responsible risk taking and a willingness to continue our learning journey.


Christine Crossley