Michael J. Kerrigan

Character Traits


Courage in America began as part of my service project as a member of The Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic service organization. As part of my “work,” I visited wounded warriors at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. The results of those and subsequent visits to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda Maryland provided the opportunity for me to select wounded warriors who already have, or were in the process of successfully overcoming traumatic injuries. My mission was to understand the character traits that enable some of them to turn their adversities into successful recoveries, while others did not.  Courage was clearly present in the successes.

Marine Corporal Todd Nicely**, was the first of the seven warriors I was to profile. Todd challenged me to write his story. I replied to Todd that given your serious injuries the story could be depressing. Todd replied…… Continue reading

Whether the original statement that ““The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (which is attributed by oral tradition to the Duke of Wellington) was meant literally or metaphorically makes little difference to me.

This Irish-American must give the Brits their due, as educators at British boarding schools over the last 200 years, took it for granted that they were teaching character as much as they were teaching math or history.

Ever since the McGuffey Reader was set aside in favor of various educational fads, manifestos and trends, (such as the self esteem movement,) the idea that in America, if you worked hard, and you showed real grit you could be successful, was also set aside.

However, in the last 40 years the question for educators was not whether but how schools should impart good character. In the 1980’s William Bennett made the traditional case… 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



In my opinion, the moral education of students in America over the last 50 years has been a resounding failure. A dramatic decline in our culture’s moral capital has occurred since we stopped teaching Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Aesop’s fables, Plutarch’s Lives, morals from the Bible, Poor Richards Almanac, the McGuffey reader and the great works of western literature to students in the United States.

It is not likely, any time soon that educators will bring back the luck and pluck of characters from Horatio Alger whose stories strengthened our faith in ourselves as well as the habits of enterprise and self-reliance. The goal of the traditional approach to character education was to teach students good habits that encourage honesty, helpfulness, self-control and courage until such habits could become second nature.

This tradition was broken with the relativistic theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, Carl Rogers and their narcissistic… Continue reading

5.0 out of 5 stars
Natural Born Heroes: Skill or Virtue?
June 6, 2015
This review is from: Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance 
In Natural Born Heroes McDougall skillfully addresses two book ideas: a wartime adventurer on Crete and the exercise philosophy called Natural Movement. Surprisingly, the author gives less credit to what, in my opinion, is his best book idea: “The Art of the Hero.”
My SF’s friends will enjoy both the yarn of the daring band of Oxford Dons kidnapping a German General and the lost secrets of strength and endurance. In my view, both the war story and the study of endurance are best understood by McDougall’s treatise on heroism.

The foundation to the “Art of the Hero” is laid in the early chapters when McDougall raises the question: Is heroism… Continue reading


In working with wounded warriors over the last several years, I was curious why some warriors had positive outcomes from their combat injuries and others did not?

  • Did those having success call upon their own will power as a means to recovery?
  • Did those not experiencing successful rehabilitation, might they have used up their reserves of will power?
  • Did some warriors possess better “character armour” than others?

In writing Courage in America, I chose to focus on those warriors having successful recoveries. Sadly, there were more warriors whose rehabilitation from injuries could not be viewed as successful, with a few ending with a life on drugs, alcohol or in suicide.

The warriors I profiled all had successful physical and mental recoveries from various kinds of combat injuries; losing their sight, to losing there limbs and having traumatic brain injuries. All exhibited an amazing will to recover and, rather than… Continue reading

Readers of The Character Building Project have asked me, what exactly is the message of my forthcoming book: Courage in America: Warriors with Character? The book is mainly about the courage of the seven wounded warriors and their families successfully recovering from traumatic injuries. Their courage in the long war of rehabilitation is key as Samuel Johnson reminds us: “Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.”

My message is that courage of the seven wounded warriors and their families is not only the key to their successful rehabilitation and ultimate reintegration to civilian life but also their courage unlocks so many other positive character traits. The success of the seven wounded warriors recovering from traumatic injuries is possible not just through advances in medical science but by practicing the virtues they learned at home… Continue reading

After conducting several interviews with our nation’s wounded warriors, reading their stories, and meeting many in the organizations serving them, I am left with amazement and deep respect for the valor and physical bravery of our nations military. Each wounded warrior I interviewed told me, in a matter of fact way, that they were trained to fearlessly run toward the sound of bullets. What motivated their singular ability to do this were these factors: they loved their country more than they feared for their lives; they valued loyalty to fellow-warriors more than securing their own safety; and, they all were, and remain, committed to defending America’s freedom–a cause greater than their individual self-interests.

Later, as I got to personally know many of these wounded warriors, I witnessed example after example of sheer moral courage. I wanted to know what character traits enabled these heroes to successfully recover from traumatic injuries?… 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.