Restoring Character in America was the hardest of my books to publish. The first book, Politics with Principle was written from my 30 plus years of experience as a Washington Lobbyists. The second, Courage in America was a natural outcome of gaining the trust of the wounded warriors and just guiding them on their story of successful rehabilitation.
The idea of Restoring Character in America did not come easily to me. I read endless books, articles, and visited numerous web sites on several character related topics. Initially my plan was to write a book about our law enforcement heroes. I thought this would be a logical extension of the heroic qualities of the wounded warriors I knew. I had already reported on the wounded warriors traumatic loss, their vulnerability in rehabilitation, then their comeback, the final triumph of successful rehabilitation and transition to civilian life.
In my opinion, our country needs to better appreciate the heroic qualities of those in law enforcement. However, Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero With A Thousand Faces defined the genre. Also the deep insights of Tod Lindberg’s The Heroic Heart and Scott Allison’s Heroes: What they Do, Why We Need Them, beautifully covered the topic of heroism from the ancient Greeks to the present.
A fortuitous call from my friend and mentor Frank M. Ochberg, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Michigan State University, encouraged me to conduct a survey on the status of character in America. Accordingly, I reached out to a wide range of friends and professionals and asked them to participate in the character survey that launched this book. I was not sure whether as a layperson I could construct the questionnaire, convince a broad range of citizens to respond to the questions, and gather meaningful responses.
Yet due to the respondents’ active participation, I was motivated to write go beyond the survey and write Restoring Character in America. I hoped to share what might be achieved from the bottom up, involving volunteer laypeople. Based on the survey, I concluded that character greatness need not necessarily be heroic but maturing over time—provided it finds itself in a fruitful environment, could grow. (Readers can decide for themselves whether or not this lay survey is insightful, as it is posted in its entirety at characterbuildingproject.com.)
My next step was to co-host a “Character Summit” with my good friend and former Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Tom Lynch. The meeting was held in December 2016 at Philadelphia’s Union League Club. Participants included venture capitalists, corporate consultants, foundation heads, community leaders and several academics. One outcome of that gathering was our collective belief that there is a market for a book whose hopeful tenet is that good character is, and can be, restored in our country by synergistically combining the work of academe, foundations, community leaders, and volunteer citizens, all willing to work together to restore civic virtue.
So why offer another book on character building? Because doing nothing will risk leaving the situation as simply the next topic for a research paper in the world of academe. Instead, what needs to be done is to democratize character building, to broaden the base of influencers able to mold our country’s next generation. My goal in offering this book is to encourage parents, coaches, teachers, social workers, and volunteers—all who mentor America’s young people— to believe in the need for developing civic virtue in their charges and to acquire the best practices for accomplishing this goal.
Rather than debating the merits of the myriad of educational agendas, manifestos, and curricula surrounding the industry of character education, I have chosen to identify successful applied research projects. I discovered and offered the reader what is working well, right, in the real world. I presented the work of character exemplars: Rich Lerner, Mike Matthews, and Paul Stoltz—three world-class and world-relevant PhDs who have achieved best practices, each in a different environment. One approach is under way in a military setting, another in a community setting, and yet another in the corporate world. Finally, another moral exemplar and modern-day Horace Mann, is Greg Mooney. Greg leads the Comer Education Campus in Chicago. Greg’s labor as an educator shows how the impossible is being made possible for an entire neighborhood of youth growing up in a low-income Chicago neighborhood struggling with gun violence.
I have asked each of these thought leaders to contribute essays on their life’s contributions to the field of character building. They have graciously responded to my request. Collectively, their work will help to close the gap between the character-building theories of the academic elites and the urgent need for action to develop virtue in our nation’s families, schools, communities, and military.