Growing up in the Midwest, I was blessed to have loving parents, old school coaches, caring teachers and orthodox priests, all of whom imparted in me traditional values. As an adult, I have been also blessed by the significant role of mentors in my past and current professional life.
One mentor helped me understand the application in practicing the skills I developed as a lobbyist to my work on the goals of the Character Building Project. For example, billing out time to different clients while advocating their cause on the Hill taught me the importance of being “thoughtful about my work habits.” Now that my career has become a “calling,” similar skills are needed to measure my productivity.
Another mentor taught me that while my professional goals in the past were often measured by the income I generated, now my goals are no longer measured in monetary terms or career… Continue reading
Having been educated in 18 plus years of orthodox Roman Catholic teaching (i.e. the Dominican Sisters, Irish Christian Brothers, Jesuits and later the Dominican Friars), it should not be surprising my interest in character development is based largely on the of works classical, (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero) biblical, (Job, Proverbs, Sirach) and scholastic (Augustine, Boethius, Thomas Aquinas) scholars.
Writing Character in America made me better appreciate the richness and excellence of character in our Greco, Judeo, Roman and Christian traditions. My views are based on the cultivation of the classical virtues of Western civilization. Some of the most insightful thinking about character is rather old. The cornerstone of my belief in building character in America is the argument that virtue is acquired in much the same way as other skills and abilities, through purposeful practice. Aristotle in a passage from his Nicomachean Ethics stated…
“And… Continue reading
The first mistake I made in my study of character in America was attending a Department of Education conference on character building. Imagine my surprise when the leader of the sports workshop proposed activities that did not permit wins and losses, or balls and strikes, as “setting these boundaries would harm children’s self-esteem.” For a brief moment until sanity prevailed, I considered bringing this workshop to my golf course to insist that other guys taking my money after a round be outlawed for “setting boundaries that would harm my wallet.”
As I delved deeper into their character education practices I came across lesson plans based on “non religious ways to happiness” that included bullying prevention efforts, and activities designed to make students “feel good about themselves.” Shocked that our tax dollars are paying for these subversive efforts, I asked the leaders of the conference what they thought of having… Continue reading
Blog readers have asked why I choose to dedicate my web site to reflections on the need for developing good character, and they deserve an answer.
By sharing these reflections, it is hoped my own character will improve, perhaps others will be moved to acquire virtue, and finally, readers will be warned of the fearful consequences that ensue when a culture devalues acquiring good habits.
Each post is an opportunity to confront my own convictions, renew my gratitude for a blessed life, and perhaps, stir others to examine character in their own life. It is my aim to make these reflections enjoyable, useful, and, in some small way, transformative of our culture.
A focus on virtue is critical because the practice of good habits serve as an antidote to vice, a proven remedy for poor character. My reflections touch on scores of topics, such as: courage, duty, honor, humility, integrity,… Continue reading
Decades of statistics from a growing number of social scientists seem to concur that the collapse of the American community is due to such factors as:
- An increasing divorce rate
- Secularization of society resulting in a reduction in religiosity
- An increasing number of babies born out of wedlock
- Civic disengagement
- An increasing number of citizens opting for a welfare state
While our civic culture may appear to be wasting away unable to actualize the vision the Founding Fathers had for America, the trend need not continue. Americans might raise the collective bar of responsible citizenry by taking advice from our Founding Fathers.
Our Founding Fathers believed that citizens can be left free as individuals and as families to live their lives as they see fit; that they can come together to solve problems shared by the community; and that virtues like integrity, industriousness, responsibility and religiosity are bound up… Continue reading
From my days as a university student, later as an American history teacher in high school and throughout my career as a lobbyist in Washington, I have thought deeply about the idea of American Exceptionalism. Sadly the present administration has only given lip service to this idea but actually pledged to “change the face of America as we know it.” In my current vocation, I am dedicated to invoking the old norms of virtue, those that have made this country exceptional and uniquely blessed.
The “John Courtney Murray Jesuits” trained me to see the thread of Aristotle, Cicero, Boethius, St. Thomas Aquinas and other philosophers ideas extended to those propounded by America’s founding fathers. The Character Building Project web site was launched with the vision of connecting, in Cicero’s terms, “what it meant to live a good life” to the grand idea of American Exceptionalism.
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams,… Continue reading
In future posts I intend to explore a question raised by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics and what Cicero referred to as “the best armor of old age”; namely; what it means to live a life well lived.
My inquiry begins by asking the reader whether the following quote* is a code for males that should be communicated or whether in the more cynical readers view, the quote is merely a series of clichés.
“To be a man means that you are brave, loyal, and true. When you are in the wrong, you own up and take your punishment. You don’t take advantage of women. As a husband, you support and protect your wife. You are gracious in victory and a good sport in defeat. Your word is your bond. Your handshake is as good as your word.”
If the reader views the quote as a… Continue reading
In their recently published… POST TRAUMATIC GROWTH IN CLINICAL PRACTICE, Doctors Calhoun and Tedeschi neatly navigate between the shoals of the psychotherapist and the layman; balancing both the requirements of scientific research while providing we, laypeople with practical tools leading to a better understanding of those suffering trauma, and the few among them, on the road to post-traumatic growth (PTG.)
The work of these two psychologists who have pioneered the concept of post-traumatic growth should be encouraged by us all and supported by the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. I have not met either man but was already motivated to learn more of PTG by Doctor Tedeschi’s influential paper: “Can We Facilitate Post-traumatic Growth in Combat Veterans.” The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is fortunate indeed to have two of the most prominent psychologists in the world, making breakthroughs on post-traumatic growth.
Calhoun and… Continue reading
Courage, bravery and valor are basically synonymous but there are different types of courage.
Physical courage is the type involved in overcoming the fear of physical injury or death in order to save others or one self.
Moral courage entails maintaining ethical integrity at the risk of losing friends, employment, privacy or prestige. In its most classic form, physical courage is the valor on the battlefield.
Cicero defined courage to include physical valor, yes, but also integrity and perseverance, any act of willfully overcoming your own security, comfort, complacency to achieve a greater good. Cicero meant courage is doing what is right even when one has much to lose.
Moral courage often relates to fear of others’ opinions. Looking foolish before peers, for example is a common fear. But moral courage compels an individual to do what he or she believes is right, despite fear of social or economic consequences.… Continue reading
Following Friday’s post on The Character Building Project, I was pleasantly surprised with our readers reaction that Professor Seligman, a modern day (positive) psychologist, would be at home with thinking of Aristotle, Cicero and other thinkers of ancient times. Continue reading
The relatively new School of Positive Psychology has hit a responsive chord with me of late. Accordingly, the presentation of topics over the next several posts on The Character Building Project will apply this school of thought to successful political leaders I have known. More specifically, the 2004 work of Seligman and Peterson entitled Character Strengths and Virtues as well as Seligman’s 2011 book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being continue to influence my thinking. Continue reading