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Home » All, Strength 25th, Strengths, Stress

Endurance as the 25th Strength

By on July 7, 2009 – 11:21 am  14 Comments

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning (Theano Coaching LLC). She teaches positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. She recently published a book,Smarts and Stamina, on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits. Her blog is Positive Psychology Reflections. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.



Winter Serenity

Winter Serenity


God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

… Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace …

The serenity prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, broadens the definition of courage as defined by Peterson’s Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV, 2004).  For Niebuhr, the virtue of courage includes the strength of endurance — the way people respond to things they cannot change.

Endurance is the side of courage that faces hardship with serenity and acceptance. Endurance can be duty faithfully shouldered. It can be pain or disablement patiently borne. It can be acceptance of persecution without loss of self. Endurance and acceptance can take as much courage as facing opposition included under the strength Bravery.

In CSV (p. 199), the historical prototype of Bravery is the physical valor shown by warriors on the battlefield. But what about the courage of widows and orphans who remake lives following the loss of husbands and fathers on the battlefield? What about families that welcome back disabled veterans of the battlefield and make new lives around them? What about Penelope who endured year after year of uncertainty waiting for Odysseus to return from Troy? A counterbalancing strength is needed to account for these long-suffering, ongoing, and less dramatic forms of courage.

Adding endurance and its analogs — such as serenity, patience, and acceptance — to the strengths of Courage broadens and balances the virtue. Endurance, like Bravery, means finding the expert mean between deficit and excess. A person with a deficit of Endurance feels victimized by the smallest inconvenience or pain. A person with an excess is stoic to the point of failing to change what can be changed or being victimized unnecessarily by others.

Evaluation against the criteria for strengths:

Ubiquity: The ubiquity of endurance as a strength is suggested by the breadth of references to it from around the world and across time, from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Judaic, and Moslem religious writings, as well as secular texts ranging in time from the Greeks to the present. Samples of references to the strength of endurance are included in an accompanying post in my personal blog.

Sparks Fly Upward

Sparks Fly Upward

CRITERION 1 Fulfilling: Endurance is fulfilling. We each have our share of suffering in one form or another, as in Job (5:7), “For man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards.” How we face the trouble that comes to us determines the tenor of our existences. Serenity and endurance do not serve as an escape from reality, but instead serve as a foundation for tackling reality with clarity.

CRITERION 2 Morally valued: We are elevated when we hear that people face hardship with grace. We admire people who perform hard duties without complaint. When we see parents caring lovingly for children with chronic diseases, particularly children so compromised that they will never be independent, we feel awe, and we wonder whether we could do one tenth as well.

CRITERION 3 Does not diminish others: Serene endurance increases the calm and acceptance of people around us. People observing graceful endurance are often led to look at their own suffering differently, perhaps seeing a different way to cope with it. Victor Frankl tells a story of a man in the concentration camp who endured by maintaining a faith that this suffering and death were meaningful and that the people in the camp would not die for nothing. His endurance gave others hope.

CRITERION 4 Nonfelicitous opposite: Active opposites are agitation, anxiety, and impatience. Passive opposites are avoidance and giving up. None of these are felicitous.

CRITERION 5 Traitlike: Endurance characterizes the way a person responds to hardship over time and in many situations. In fact, Endurance is probably more traitlike than Bravery since it is phasic (ongoing) rather than tonic (response to a particular demand).

CRITERION 6 Distinctiveness: I expect people may believe that this strength is subsumed under Bravery, whose definition includes “facing a terminal illness with equanimity. “ The difference between them is that Bravery involves a point of accomplishment at the terminus of the illness, whereas Endurance is ongoing with no foreseeable end. Bravery is action-oriented and tonic. Endurance is courage without action and phasic. Other strengths can support Endurance. For example, Spirituality often provides faith in goodness and belief in one’s purpose in life. With Humility, one understands not being exempt from pain. Humor helps some people endure pain. But each of these can be exercised without Endurance.

CRITERION 7 Paragons: Many paragons of endurance are not so recognized at the time. But some are — Victor Frankl, the Dalai Lama, and Horton in the Dr. Seuss stories. Victor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning based on his endurance of concentration camp life, “Everything can be taken from a man but …the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (p. 104). The Dalai Lama responded to exile and destruction of his home thus, “Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone. This is the ancient law.” (BBC, n.d.). Horton hatched the egg of Mayzie the lazy bird, enduring storm, ridicule, and capture, averring, “”I meant what I said And I said what I meant …An elephant’s faithful. One hundred per cent!”

CRITERION 8 Prodigies: I have known three young adults, one now dead, who have endured muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and Friedrich’s Ataxia respectively. One recently found that he could build friendships with peers through computer gaming, the first time in fifteen years that he had been able to interact with peers without close adult supervision. One attended school, where other students came to love him, even though he could not sit unaided, talk, or read. But he could smile. Another went from staggering gait to cane to walker to wheel chair as he completed high school and went off to college, figuring out ingenious ways to cope with his physical losses.

CRITERION 9 Selective absence: There are people who can endure no pain or that believe that they deserve to be spared from all suffering. There are complainers who do not accept their lot in life, but take no constructive steps, believing that they are entitled to better.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

CRITERION 10 Institutions and Rituals: Some cultures have rituals for increasing physical endurance, such as the Spartan and Samurai training. Other cultures encourage people to capture sorrow in poetry, like the mother who imagines her dead child absent on his wonted chase after the dragonflies and hums ((Nitob, 1904).

“How far to-day in chase, I wonder,
Has gone my hunter of the dragon-fly!”

Cultures based on respect for elders encourage young people to observe and admire serenity and acceptance of reality.

Summary
Endurance, acceptance, and serenity comprise a strength that enables one to face life’s sufferings with grace and to inspire others to do so as well. QED

References

I have a number of references illustrating the existence of Endurance as a valued strength in various cultures at various times. Because they make this article too long, I’ve included them in a posting in my blog, to which you are cordially invited. I’ve also included there a poem by David Wagoner that exemplifies the retiring nature of Endurance.

CSV (2004). I used this as shorthand for Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press.

Niebuhr, Reinhold, attributed (n.d). Serenity Prayer. The origin of this prayer is not entirely clear, as described in A Brief History of the Serenity Prayer. Retrieved 3 March 2006 from http://open-mind.org/Serenity.htm

Nitob, Inazo (1904). Bushido, the Soul of Japan.

Dr. Seuss (1940). Horton Hatches the Egg (Classic Seuss). Random House books for young readers.

Images
Serenity courtesy of zerena
Fire! courtesy of thievingjoker
Dragonfly in Central Park courtesy of Cessna 206

14 Comments »

  • WJ says:

    Kathryn, interestingly acceptance is a key dimension of mindfulness. I suspect mindfulness is one pathway to build endurance

  • Senia says:

    Hi Kathryn,

    This endurance sounds very similar to resilience. Being able to be resilient and get back up like Humpty Dumpty (but without the great fall). What are the similarities? What are the differences with resilience?

    “A person with a deficit of Endurance feels victimized by the smallest inconvenience or pain. A person with an excess is stoic to the point of failing to change what can be changed or being victimized unnecessarily by others.”

    So both excess and deficit people could be victimized? That’s interesting. So not having endurance is often being very sensitive, is that right?

    I love your Penelope examples!

    Merci,
    S.

  • Kathryn Britton says:

    Wayne,

    I thought about you as I wrote this. Perhaps mindfulness is a compound strength made up of acceptance and attention control.

    Kind of like the way bronze is to copper and tin.

    Kathryn

  • Kathryn Britton says:

    Senia,

    The difference is this: with deficit, one FEELS victimized when perhaps one is not while with excess one IS victimized when perhaps it’s not necessary. It goes back to the Serenity prayer — knowing the difference.

    I would guess that Resilience is like Flow — a state of being — rather than a strength. Endurance might be one strength that helps one experience resilience. But there are others — optimism, judgment come to mind.

    Kathryn

  • WJ says:

    Kathryn, I suspect that there probably are compound strengths that are more than the sum of the individual strengths that from them. I also suspect that mindfulness includes curiosity

  • Senia says:

    Kathryn,
    Thanks – that’s a nice distinction – that Endurance could be a strength and resilience could be a mode that we can move into.
    S.

  • Amanda Horne says:

    Kathryn, I enjoyed reading your article, and also Wayne’s and Senia’s comments on mindfulness and resilience. I too thought of mindfulness when I read your works “Endurance is the side of courage that faces hardship with serenity and acceptance.”. Through being mindful, we can find the way to endure, and the reasons to endure.
    I also think there are strong links between your article and Sherri’s on self-sacrifice.

    Thanks!
    Amanda

  • George Vaillant says:

    Kathryn
    I think your argument for endurance is very strong and I loved the quote from Horton. That is a favorite of mine. My own druthers would be to subsume courage under endurance. The flashy part of courage, that gets gasps from TV viewers is often rashness, risktaking and dissociation – the opposite of mindfullness.
    Having spent my life studying resilience, I see it as the whole shooting match, not a single strength. Resilience = health.
    Thanks
    George

  • Amanda,
    I too think endurance and mindfulness are strongly related, but I can imagine Endurance/Patience without Mindfulness while it is hard to imagine Mindfulness without Endurance/Patience. This makes me think that Endurance/Patience is more elemental — like copper — while Mindfulness is more of an alloy — like bronze. And notice that we do not have a Copper Age in history! So mindfulness seems more powerful.

    Or perhaps I’m making too much of the metaphor.

    Kathryn

  • George,
    We had an article a few days ago about frames of meaning for life that represent different cultural perspectives on strengths and virtues and other positive psychology concepts. I think men as a whole and women as a whole have different frames of meaning for life as well. When I read about the Courage strengths in CSV, I feel like whole facets of life that are a major reality to the lives of women are left out.

    I think about Zainab Salbi who started Women-to-Women International who talks about the under-spoken side of war — the women who hold families together and rebuild communities amidst the ravages of war.

    I think about the Lechow family in Margot Benary-Isbert’s wonderful stories about life in Germany right after the end of WW II (The Ark, Rowan Farm) — the father comes home halfway through the second book. In the meantime, the mother and 4 remaining children (one was shot when they were forced out of their home) have been moved multiple times to new cities, and are now starting to rebuild a home life once again in the requisitioned attic of a private home.

    So perhaps you are right that Bravery and Endurance/Patience are two sides of the same coin. It’s just that the Endurance/Patience side is seldom uppermost.

    Kathryn

  • Steve says:

    I would state that endurance is different than mindfulness. I would think of mindfulness as one means of achieving and practicing endurance. Thanks for your thoughtful writing on this topic. I love the serenity prayer, and use it often to navigate life’s challenges.

  • Kathryn – the examples you give in both your article and your comments make me think of “unsung heroes”. To George’s point they don’t typically get “gasps from TV viewers”. When I think of endurance I often think of having the stamina to make it through a long haul/race. Thanks for this enlightening definition. You have my vote! Margaret

  • Margaret, Yes! for unsung heroes. What comes to my mind are numerous characters in the Anne of Green Gables books — including Anne herself who gave up a scholarship to college to stay home and help Marilla run the farm — Matthew had just died and Marilla’s eyesight was dimming. There’s a special beauty to such behavior.

    Thanks for your vote 8)
    Kathryn

  • Steve,
    Interesting distinction, that mindfulness is a means to endurance, but perhaps not the only means. It gives me something to think about. It’s hard to tease different concepts apart sometimes. For example, can Endurance be expressed as a compound strength made up of other elemental strengths? In my opinion, no. But I suspect there are people to argue that it consists of forgiveness + persistence + judgment with a little humility thrown in. But then, are forgiveness and judgment really elemental?

    Kathryn

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