The Wizard of Oz

Wisdom and Courage Studied.

The Wizard of Oz (1939): When her Kansas farmhouse is swept up by a tornado and falls into an enchanted land called Oz, killing a witch, Dorothy Gale incurs the wrath of the dead witch’s sister. Befriended by a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion, she survives the witch’s attempts to kill her and succeeds in returning to her home in Kansas.

Snyder and Lopez (2007) use this movie to teach positive psychology concepts.  Wisdom and courage often have been studied together in positive psychology, although their intermingling may cause difficulties in distinguishing them. This construct confusion is captured in a statement from the movie The Wizard of Oz (Haley & Fleming, 1939), in which the Wizard says to the Cowardly Lion, ”As for you, my fine friend, you are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate delusion that, simply because you run away from danger, you have no courage. You’re confusing courage with wisdom!’

Wisdom and strength both exemplify human excellence; they involve a challenge, they require sound decision making, and they typically contribute to the common good. Furthermore, ordinary people can demonstrate both of these extraordinary qualities. Without question, however, the scholarly discussion aimed at clarifying the relationship between wisdom and courage will be complex. In some cases, wisdom is characterized as the predecessor of courage. Moreover, in the strongest form of the argument, St. Ambrose believed that “fortitude without justice is a level of evil” (cited in Pieper, 1966, p. 125). Some people even reason that wisdom can make courage unnecessary. This view is described in Staudinger and Baltes’s (1994) words: “We need courage only in those instances when in fact they [wisdom and faith] do not suffice-either because we simply lack them or because they are irrelevant to or ineffective against our distress. Knowledge, wisdom, and opinion can provide fear with its objects or deprive it of them. They do not impart courage but rather offer an opportunity to exercise it or do without it” (p. 57) (Snyder & Lopez, 2007, p. 210).

Psychological courage, as Putman (1997) described it, is strength in facing one’s destructive habits. This form of vital courage may be quite common in that we all struggle with psychological challenges in the forms of stress, sadness, and dysfunctional or unhealthy relationships. In light of these threats to our psychological stabilities, we stand up to our dysfunctions by restructuring our beliefs or systematically desensitizing ourselves to the fears (Snyder & Lopez, 2007, p. 231).


Snyder, C. R. & Lopez, S. J. (2007). Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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