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Archive for January, 2015

This morning, gentle reader, we will conclude our brief exploration of the three major taproots that nurture and sustain ‘Character.’ Thus far we have briefly explored Knowledge/Knowing and Affect; this morning we will briefly explore Behavior.

In our culture one of our favorite phrases is ‘This is the Bottom Line!’ Regarding our ‘Character,’ consider that the ‘bottom line’ is Moral Behavior. I am prefacing ‘behavior’ with the adjective ‘moral’ because I assume (one assumption I own) that a person of ‘Character’ is also a person seeking to be a ‘Moral Person.’

It seems to me that Behavior is influenced by three taproots: will, competence, and habit.

Will enables us to mobilize and focus our moral energy. It engenders us with the courage and strength to move beyond our ego-centric interest and fears. It motivates us to enact Moral Behavior; the behavior that our head and heart tells us that moral beings choose to enact.

Competence directly refers to the skills, talents, abilities, and capacities – the range of behaviors – a moral being needs in order to ‘be moral.’ Consider that a person of moral ‘Character’ is well served by listening a certain way, by seeking to understand [self and the other(s)], by being empathetic, and to care for (to serve) those in need. A person of moral ‘Character’ models the ‘good’ and seeks to help the other(s) develop the capacities needed in order to also choose and enact Moral Behavior.

Habit helps. Aristotle reminded us a few years ago that the combination of what we think and what we choose to enact, over-time, promotes the development of a habit. Once integrated the habit helps define who we are. Practice is, therefore, crucial when it comes to habit development. But we must be careful for ‘practice does not make perfect’ – ‘practice makes permanent!’ Habit is crucial for we do not have the luxury of stopping to consider our every moral action. Habit enables us to appropriately react when we do not have the time to appropriately respond (firefighters, police officers, and military folks know the difference and importance of both and their training helps them prepare to appropriately respond and appropriately react and to know when to do one or the other).

And so, gentle reader, we are charged with – and at times challenged with – developing our Will, Competence and Habit so that we might then develop the habits that enable us to choose Moral Behavior.

This concludes our brief exploration of the three major taproots – Knowledge/Knowing, Affect, & Behavior – that nurture and sustain our ‘Character.’ If this, or some of this, speaks to you gentle reader I invite you to take more time exploring these taproots – perhaps to embrace them and develop your capacity to live into and out of one or more of them.

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Gentle reader, last time we briefly explored Knowledge/Knowing, this morning we will briefly explore the second major taproot that nurtures and sustains ‘Character’ – Affect.

At our healthiest we human beings are living paradoxes; we are ‘good and evil,’ we are ‘virtue and vice,’ we are ‘light and darkness.’ We are also ‘rational and emotional.’ At our best we seek to balance our ‘rational and emotional’ dimensions. This balance, or lack of it, powerfully determines to what extent we are ‘moral’ – to the extent that we are people of ‘good character.’

For many reasons we humans tend to believe that we are rational, first. Some of us even deny that we are influenced at all by our emotional dimension. Research, thus far, continues to flip this idea. Our decisions and actions are motivated first by our emotions – our Affect; then we use our intellect to rationalize or justify our decisions and actions. Most of us know folks who lead with their emotions; research suggests that we all do this. We might also have experienced – I know I have – that our emotions can move us in a direction that our rational-self would not choose to go. We can talk a good moral game, we can believe we reason with the angels, AND we are often ‘betrayed’ by our emotions – actually, we simply confirm that we are fully human beings who are motivated by, at times driven by, our emotions.

On the positive side, our emotions provide us an energy that our rational dimension does not possess. We can also use our Knowledge/Knowing (our intellect) to help monitor and moderate our emotions. Moral human-beings learn to balance ‘habits of the head’ and ‘habits of the heart;’ this balancing is part of what has come to be known as ‘Character Education’ or ‘Character Development.’

A significant portion of our human development entails developing our emotional capacity whereby we learn to love, to care for ‘the good, the beautiful, and the true.’ Our commitments are also rooted in our emotions and then they are supported by our rational dimension. Consider that we tend to be suspect of the person who is only ‘intellectually committed’ – who is lacking an ‘emotional commitment.’ For example, compliance is not as powerful as ‘buy-in’ and ‘buy-in’ is not as powerful as ‘emotionally owning’ (say, my role, my discipline, my work, etc.). It also appears that our ‘conscience’ is healthy when it is motivated by a balance of the ‘emotional and the rational.’

Finally, for this morning anyway, a healthy development of our ‘Character’ seems to be rooted in healthy ‘self-love’ and ‘self-love’ is rooted in and motivated by our emotional dimension. Our Affect enables us to love ‘the good, the beautiful, and the true’ that resides within us. And to the extent that we are able to do this we are then able to offer our ‘love’ to the other(s).

Affect is also a bridge between Knowledge/Knowing and Behavior. Next time we will briefly explore this third powerful taproot — Behavior.

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Today, gentle reader, we will begin to briefly explore three major taproots that nurture and sustain ‘Character’: Knowledge/Knowing, Affect, and Behavior.

KNOWLEDGE/KNOWING: We human beings, by nature, are curious; we are seekers and searchers. We have also developed – some say we are continuing to develop – our reasoning abilities and capacities. We seek to understand. We seek to understand what resides ‘within’ and what resides ‘without.’ A key to our continued existence is that we develop, nurture and sustain ‘community.’ The community provides us the safety so we can continue our searching and seeking and learning. One of the things we learn is all that it takes in order to become and remain, a member of the community.

Each community emerges, among other things, the values, norms and character traits that enable one to be a member. Knowledge/Knowing are crucial taproots for all community members. As members of a community we might address the following questions: What is compassion? When is it needed? What is love? How is it demonstrated? What happens to me and to the community when I am not responsible or response-able? What does it mean to be responsible and response-able?

Because we humans become members of a variety of communities we need to develop the knowledge/knowing of each – in order to know what it takes to become a member and to remain a member. Thus, we are, by definition, ‘moral and ethical agents.’ We need to know, know and understand would be even more helpful, the community’s ‘moral wisdom.’ If we are going to continue to be members of the community we must also agree to abide by the community’s ‘moral wisdom’ (its values, norms, prejudices, assumptions, beliefs, guiding principles, etc.).

Traditionally – that is, for thousands of years now – a community educates its members via teaching stories. ‘Teaching Stories’ depicting ‘good and evil’ or ‘virtue and vice’ or ‘light and darkness’ are told to the young. As the young develop their capacity to read and understand they are provided written teaching stories. In our culture/community we have access to a wide-range of stories; stories that can help us ‘know’ – these are the ‘Teaching Stories.’ This knowledge/knowing can be directly imparted via a story. More often than not, however, this knowledge/knowing emerges as a result of searching and seeking out the meaning of the story. For example, what can one learn about courage and human frailty from the young soldier Henry Fleming in Crane’s ‘Red Badge of Courage?’ What can Martin Luther King Jr.’s story tell us about a moral idea?

Developing members of our culture/community need to know our ‘moral history’ as a nation. We need to know what others have learned – not so that we will simply imitate them but so that we will learn what it means to make moral judgments. We need to learn about our culture/community’s moral successes and moral failures. We need to learn how to think critically, ethically and morally. This learning is no passive processes. The seeker and searcher – the learner – must ask him/herself certain questions and then address them: ‘What is the good, the right in this situation?’ ‘What are the consequences – intended and unintended – of certain choices?’

Knowledge/Knowing involves what Aristotle called ‘practical wisdom.’ Knowledge/Knowing in order to become ‘practical wisdom’ requires the other two major taproots: Affect and Behavior. Next time we will briefly explore Affect.

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In 1989 I had the privilege of meeting Michael Josephson, the founder of the Josephson Institute. He introduced me to his mantra, ‘Character Counts,’ and to his ‘six pillars of character.’ Yesterday I re-visited the Josephson Institute’s web site. They continue to thrive as they develop new initiatives. The folks associated with the Institute who serve us continue to seek ways to nurture our ‘Character.’ I still wear my ‘Six Pillars’ pin on my sport coat lapel and at times I wear my ‘Character Counts’ tie. These are powerful symbols that remind me that ‘Character’ indeed, does ‘Count.’

A few years ago a guy by the name of Plato (yes, that guy) asked if virtue could be taught. This continues to be a stimulating question (for some of us anyway). A corollary question can be asked when it comes to ‘Character.’ Can Character be taught? Since the early 1990s the number of articles, essays and book dedicated to ‘Character Development’ or ‘Character Education’ continues to expand almost exponentially. One can peruse a book containing a collection of ‘Character Development’ or ‘Character Education’ essays and conclude that there is little agreement as to the definition of ‘Character’ and as to whether ‘Character Education’ is actually viable AND to confuse things a bit more, even among those who believe in ‘Character Development/Education’ there is often significant difference as to what ‘Character Development/Education’ involves. If one is seeking ‘intellectual stimulation’ many of these books are helpful; if one is seeking clarity, not so much.

So, given all of this, why have I decided to once again put finger to key and invite us to explore this topic, ‘Character’? Why? Because Michael Josephson is correct: ‘Character Counts.’ If I-You-We truly believe this then we have an obligation to seek to understand ‘Character’ and we need to seek to understand to what extent ‘Character Education’ is necessary and viable. So, gentle reader, I invite you to search together with me as we explore our topic CONSIDER ‘CHARACTER’.

Consider that our ‘Character’ is nurtured by three major interdependent tap roots: Knowledge/Knowing, Affect, and Behavior.

In the entries that follow we will briefly explore each of these major interdependent tap roots. They are ‘major’ in that they powerfully influence, and nurture, our ‘Character’ and its development. They are ‘interdependent’ in that they influence and depend upon each other so that a healthy balance is established and sustained. These are not the only tap roots that nurture ‘Character’ and, for some, other tap roots might be considered to be more important than these three. What I am inviting us to do is to ‘consider’ – to reflect upon and think about what I offer.

Albert Einstein – a person with more than a small intellect – noted: Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.

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Much has been written about the ‘Seven Seas.’ Today, gentle reader, I invite us to briefly explore my version of ‘The Seven Cs.’ If you have read any number of my previous entries you might have noticed that I have, not infrequently, reflected upon a number of ‘C-Word Sets’ (e.g. ‘Consciousness, Character and Conduct’ is a favorite set).

During our life-time a number of challenges will present themselves to us. These challenges show up dressed as ‘problems,’ ‘paradoxes,’ ‘polarities,’ or ‘dilemmas.’ At times we find ourselves ‘reacting’ to them and at other times we find ourselves ‘responding’ to them. Generally, an intentional response is more helpful than an inappropriate reaction (we can also appropriately react). The Seven Cs that follow have helped some folks intentionally and purposefully emerge an appropriate response and they have also helped some folks prepare so when certain events happen they are more likely to appropriately react.

Here are The Seven Cs and the eight steps in the process.

Consider = to think carefully about
Contemplate = to observe and study thoughtfully
Converse = to talk and exchange views with the other(s)
Compose = to create and form the basis of. . .
Choose = to pick from preference and decide
Commit = to entrust and pledge
Conduct = execution
Consider/Contemplate = to reflect upon the experience and learn. . .

Some ‘problems,’ ‘paradoxes,’ ‘polarities,’ and ‘dilemmas’ will require the process to take significant time and some of these will only require a brief time (the art of the process is to discern the amount of time, energy and resources that will be required). If one chooses to use the process as a way of preparing to be appropriately reactive then significant time and practice via imaging will be required (ask any firefighter, police officer, or soldier how much preparation time it takes for them to be able to be prepared to appropriately react when certain situations present themselves).

Let’s briefly explore the eight step process. ‘Consider’ requires that I ‘think carefully about’ the challenge. Depending upon the challenge and my understanding of the challenge this step might require significant time. One of my goals is to ‘understand’ the challenge. As I am considering the challenge I also begin to ‘Contemplate’ the challenge by observation and thoughtful study. As I ‘Consider’ and ‘Contemplate’ I will also seek to ‘Converse’ with the other(s). We explore together; we exchange ideas and we stimulate our collective thinking via inquiry – especially framing questions from a place of ‘not knowing.’

At some point in time I (or we) will begin to ‘Compose’ – to create or emerge options. The options themselves are then explored. Again after some time I, or we, will choose an option and then ‘Commit’ to the option. The option chosen is then enacted; it is executed. Results will occur.

Given the results I, or we, will once again ‘Consider’ and ‘Contemplate’ – we will take time to reflect upon the experience for I, or we, want to learn. Charles Handy’s insight is helpful: ‘Reflection plus Experience is the Learning.’

So, gentle reading I invite you to consider sailing these ‘Seven Cs.’

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