Michael J. Kerrigan

The Character Building Project

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This review is from: The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds 

Not since reading The Black Swan, Tuxedo Park and The Inevitable have I thought more about the implications of The Undoing Project. Like many of my friends, I enjoyed reading The Big Short, Moneyball, Liars Poker and several others of Michael Lewis books. However, The Undoing Project was the most challenging of all his books I’ve read. I found Lewis general focus on decision-making theory rewarding and riveting and specifically relevant to my study of character building.

The book is especially entertaining as Lewis describes the relationship of its two heroes: Israeli psychologists Daniel Kaheneman and Amos Tversky as well as their original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. The Undoing Project is about a compelling collaboration between these two men and how their work created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized… Continue reading


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


During the Christmas season it is our family tradition to view the character enriching lessons of It’s a Wonderful Life, the Frank Capra movie of how George Bailey’s life made a difference in the lives of his Bedford Falls community. I know from first hand observation, it is neither wonderful nor acceptable how the corrosive culture of the Department of Veterans Affairs serves our Veterans.

Recently, I published an article about a speech on the Character of our Wounded Warriors and their Families. One of the themes from the Q&A of the DAR address was… what can be done to radically reform the Veterans Administration? Evidencing the serious commitment of this discussion was a follow up note I just received from a person in the audience whose nom de plume is “Clarence.”

It is my hope by sharing this note readers of The Character Building Project will voice their opinions… Continue reading


Many believe the topic of heroism is critically important to our politics, culture and needs to be properly taught in our educational system. That is why I am studying the path of ordinary Americans, heroically overcoming adversity.

Some time ago I reacted to the growth of “extreme egalitarianism” and the “self-esteem” movement, then and now, infiltrating our educational system. As a reaction, I was motivated to launch The Character Building project site. Our mission is to foster character building strengths in a rising generation of citizens by sharing the stories of ethical leaders who presently serve or have served others.

My vision to enhance character development is by writing, researching, teaching, speaking about leadership that illustrates the relationship between character development and the individual’s reasoning skills, moral will and self-discipline.

The reaction to my first book, Politics with Principle was positive inside the beltway but outside the beltway not so… 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


Before asking readers to identify Unsung Heroes for The Character Building Project, it occurred to me to first share several perspectives on Heroes and Heroines. In my opinion, there are many types of heroes and heroines as well as kinds of heroism: military heroes, humanitarian heroes, cultural heroes, business heroes, biblical heroes, literary heroes, political heroes and unsung heroes of all kinds. I trust the following perspectives on Heroes will enrich your understanding, motivate you to share your views on heroism and perhaps identify who your heroes and heroines are.


Heroes overcome adversity in order to do the right thing for the good of humanity.

Heroes live by the golden rule and do the right thing for the right reasons.

Heroes at an instant in time have confronted difficulty, even death defying issues and either succeed or not but risk their lives to do it.

Heroes spend a lifetime… Continue reading

Eddie Canales Gives Hope to Paralyzed Athletes

Eddie Canales Gives Hope to Paralyzed Athletes

With suggestions from the readers of The Character Building Project, I intend to profile the journey of ordinary people through the difficulties life presents. My focus is not on the archetypal classical hero but of the Unsung Hero and the nobility of their service. Great souled individuals who are entitled to acclaim from their fellow Americans

I have a certain concept in mind of the Unsung Hero, one who realizes within himself or herself a great transformation after doing extraordinary deeds.  In my pursuit of Unsung Heroes, the moral interest of their stories must be centered in the kind of action, the character of the deed involved. The spirit of virtue hovers over the virtuous deed. Unsung Heroes are ordinary Americans who live out their convictions as in the case of a young couple I know.

The ides of the Unsung Hero… Continue reading

Last night we enjoyed The Ultimate Gift, a movie with an unusual take on a heroic figure. Jason Stevens (Drew Fuller) lives a life of wealth and privilege more taken with a fun and a fame infatuated world than being a paradigm of virtue. Jason is more of an unintentional hero rather than an upright man seeking heroic deeds.

When his grandfather (James Garner) dies, Jason expects to receive a hefty inheritance. Instead, Jason must set out on a journey of self-discovery to earn the true gift his grandfather meant for him to have. Along the way, Jason befriends a dying girl (Abigail Breslin) and her mother (Ali Hillis) and learns what is really important in life.

Given the conditions set forth by Jason’s grandfather and the tests he is required to undergo, raises the question whether valorous actions must always be voluntary? Are involuntary heroes accomplishments worthy of our… Continue reading


We are having a discussion in The Character Building Project blog about heroism. Readers have offered various definitions. The consensus image of a hero seems to be one who engages in a demanding and preserving adversity or struggle, endures trials, is transformed, and ultimately achieves moral success.

It is a tricky exercise to define a hero and label worthy actions as heroic, particularly in a time when the culture is so cynical about virtue and fascinated instead by celebrity status. Sadly, this is an anti-hero age. Today, our schools consciously avoid teaching about virtue, so it is not surprising that the public exhibits disdain toward magnanimous political leaders and indifference toward military sacrifices.

My earlier books: Politics with Principle and Courage in America attempted to counter this disdain and indifference. These projects inadvertently led me to discovery of many unsung exemplary people leading truly heroic lives.   I began… Continue reading

Do you want to live in a world where no one can qualify as a hero or where anyone can be a hero? I didn’t think so.


Hero of the Boston Bombing

Hero of the Boston Bombing

After reviewing the topic of heroism with a several beta readers of The Character Building Project, I have asked them the criteria we should consider in defining heroism.

A good friend, an internationally known psychiatrist suggested:

“Someone or something that is precious and vulnerable is under threat. Someone who is motivated by altruism, not by interest in acclaim, risks life, health or reputation to intervene. The intervention is effective. Qualities of honor, valor, humility and charity are displayed. Heroes have had the opportunity to act in such a way and they have taken that opportunity. Others may be capable, but have not been tested. One may, therefore, be a potential hero without displaying heroism. They would be… Continue reading


The focus of The Character Building Project is expanding from profiling the heroism of our combat veterans not only their heroism on the battlefield but also in their successful recovery from their traumatic injuries. Our mission is now to the study of civilian heroes as well.

The first step in this transition was to study the work of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. The Commission, which has operated continuously since 1904, recognizes the outstanding acts of selfless heroism. These acts usually involve heroic efforts to save another human life. That standard is consistent with Joseph Campbell’s definition… “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

However, upon further reflection I wanted to better understand ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary but not necessarily by saving a life or giving one’s life. My current pursuit is more general and has to do with… Continue reading

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