Michael J. Kerrigan

Character Building

My former client and lifetime friend, Larry Peck sparked my interest in the science of talent development. After a successful corporate career, Larry has now set a goal of being a Master shotgun marksman/expert. At the same time, Larry has encouraged my work in character building. Being a very competitive guy, Larry suggested I read The Talent Code. He later sent me The Little Book of Talent and most recently Every Shot Must Have A Purpose.

As a result of Larry’s prompting, my reading has become much more intense having focused on related books like: Deep Work, Will Power and The Power of Habit. Long ago the Jesuits planted in me, Aristotle’s “habit seed” …

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

My recent book, Restoring Character in America was laid on the foundation and life’s work of four… Continue reading


Why raise a moral saying of Publius Syrus,* a Roman slave?

As visitors to the character building project site will note, I record maxims and mottoes as they interest me. Secondly, when I came across the idea of learning well but neglecting to do well, I was reminded of the four exemplars that provided the intellectual foundation for my new book, Restoring Character in America.

The essays of the four character experts demonstrate they are not only learned but also that, through their work on character, they have done well. Few men like Rich Lerner, Mike Matthews, Paul Stoltz and Greg Mooney have their proven intellectual firepower but who have also used it for the good of their fellow citizens.

*Publius Syrus (fl. 85–43 BC[1]), was a Latin writer, best known for his sententiae. He was a Syrian… Continue reading

Recently, I have written about leadership as a growth industry, leadership failures, the quality of leadership scholarship and lessons learned from successful leaders. Some of the scholarship does address those leaders who embrace character traits such as humility, self-discipline and other virtues (i.e. Servant and Authentic Leadership.)

However, I am struck by the fact that character seems subordinate to leadership (Is Leadership Subordinate To Character?) Rich Lerner one of the foremost experts on character, argues that character development/character education is superordinate to leadership development. (Character Development is the Foundation for Leadership Development.)

While character education may or may not be subordinate to leadership development I am curious why character building has fallen so far behind. Curious about this gap, I asked Rich and several other academics five questions, the answers to which follow in future posts.

1. Are there University advanced degree character (only) programs?
2. Are there academic journals… Continue reading


After reading The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly I have been thinking whether many of the 12 technological trends that Kelly believes will shape our future, might also shape character education and character building. For example, might the character community cooperate to create a platform like the iPhone and write an encyclopedia, as is done with Wikipedia? The aim would be for the character community to engineer a system where self-directed peers take responsibility for critical processes and difficult decisions, such as sorting out priorities are decided by all participants.

The next several posts will be based on applying several of Kevin Kelly’s twelve trends to building character in America. With feedback from readers of The Character Building Project, we might very well begin to harness the sharing of the character crowd.


pyramid-of-successIf, as I propose, we are not going to leave teaching character solely to the experts in our universities, where do we begin? One psychologist friend shared with me the notion that many elementary teachers love their children, many high school teachers love their subjects and many but not all university professors love themselves. Therefore, I suggest we begin by help preparing elementary and secondary schoolteachers to teach character building skills to their students.

Having begun my career as a high school teacher and basketball coach at St. Benedicts High School in Chicago, I have the greatest admiration for teachers and coaches. In fact, in my 32 years as a lobbyist advocating for clients in Washington, D.C., I now know my skill set as a lobbyist was based on foundation early in my career as a teacher and coach.

Just as teachers and coaches listen to the needs of… Continue reading


What if, for the first time in human history, the sphere of social networking and other 21st century digital tools like deep learning algorithms, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, self-tracking, etc. could steadily turn character education into collaborative action rather than a specialty of the academic elites?

What if we tap the open commons of the web where the audience (as is the case of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) and the users do most of the work?

Our vision would be to network all character literature interlinking character into a wiki like platform. Unlike libraries of old which were restricted to the elite, this library or character platform could be truly democratic.

Rather than having the content of character building being produced in a top down way by academic elites and large institutions, what if, much of the progress in character building could be manufactured in a bottoms up… Continue reading



The summation of all twenty questions is offered below to share with the participants of our character survey. The occupations of these men and women range from several psychologists and psychiatrists, lawyers, management consultants, business leaders, a seminarian, an Army Major, a scientists, two entrepreneurs, stay at home moms, a former member of Congress, journalist and a college professor and president. Robert Lynch, one of our participants and founder of the International Collaborative Institute, is in the process of completing a trend analysis of the responses to the survey.

Thank you for taking the time to participate in our survey.


1.Can Character Be Broken Down To Component Skills To Be Practiced?

The initial responses to the first question of the character survey follow. They range from the very succinct to quite long answers. At this point in the survey, we have received responses from over a dozen… Continue reading


Over morning coffee my wife and I often discuss the news, the state of our country, the economy, religion and politics. Sadly, we are troubled by whether the future for our children and grandchildren will be as bright as it was for us. We wonder why today Americans treat each other so shabbily and if the social contract of our time has now been completely shredded?

The America of today does not resemble the America we grew up in. I have watched the moral fiber of this country dissolve and witnessed the death of character in my lifetime. In recent decades we have seen the virtual disintegration of the traditional family and the decay of moral education and cultural institutions. It has happened like the tarnishing of a brass candlestick – imperceptible from one day to the next, but corroded over a span of fifty years.

For many of us,… Continue reading


Because our country is facing a character crisis on many fronts, a goal of the Character Building Project is to reclaim the study of character. Rather than leave the notion of moral development to the high priests of academe, we would like to learn your definition of character. Your responses help us in rescuing the concept of character. To stimulate your comments consider the following:


Character is destiny. Heraclitus

More knowledge may be gained of a man’s real character by a short conversation with one of his servants than from a formal and studied narrative. Samuel Johnson

No man is free who is not a master of himself. Epictetus

The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out. Lord Macaulay

We become what we are as persons by the decisions that we ourselves make. Aristotle

The dispositions… Continue reading


Wow! This question brought out the most extreme responses, even accusing me  of slipping in a “trick” question at the end of the survey. The respondents had much more to say about the character of Donald Trump than about the state of character in America today. As to Mr. Trump, all but seven respondents saw his character as: a textbook narcissist, a dangerous temptress, an egomaniac and one thriving on the disenchanted. The few, who saw a connection between Trump’s electoral successes as reflected in his motto, offer several reasons; due to the economic stresses over the last eight years, disgust with political correctness today, and the fact that Trump speaks to the sensibilities of citizens desire to return to the values of the past. Those that could get beyond their opinion of Trump’s flawed character, see America as still great and America as the best country to be… Continue reading


The answers stating one’s purpose in life and motto often reflected religous  principles as reflected in the golden rule. Answers of their mission in life range: from leading their families, doing no harm, service to others, doing the Lord’s will and getting to heaven. Most have their own personal motto’s, some, patriotic; Semper Fi, No better friend-no worse enemy,Live Free or Die, and E Pluribus Unum; while others have motto’s focusing on growth and self-improvement; good, better, best…never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is best….about covers the motto answers.


Mission, to leave this earth in a better place then when I arrived. Motto – Like Start Trek – Do no harm and bring only +

Finish Strong!

When I was in 8th grade my teacher had our class right our eulogies and ponder what we would want written on our… Continue reading

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Courage in America has been aurally transcribed for the visually impaired, thanks to Volunteers of Vacaville, California. Tel: 704.448.6841 ext 2044.