A question of character? Over my last few posts, I have directed considerable attention towards character and its vital role in finding solutions to social and organizational challenges, locally and globally. I have linked with the work of the World Economic Forum and PwC, in so doing. In response, there has been kind and constructive engagement; and commentaries as to the need for specificity.
The bad news is that the study and application of character does not, in and of itself, produce concrete steps or solutions for anything. The good news is that the study and application of character provides a breeding ground for growth in capacity and creativity to find such steps and solutions. Discernment, openness, wisdom, courage, trust, integrity… and many other virtues… can be the foundation for higher quality dialogue and development alike. I grew up in a family business where I witnessed the application of character to the work of growing a successful business. I have witnessed, in so many in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors alike, the power of character to rally conversations, develop solutions and take action. I am a believer by witness and experience.
Social science is unpacking a very old idea. Websites and institutes are directing their attention. Wikipedia is in the game. TED is paying attention. Character is not warm and fluffy; nor is it about easy answers or 7 steps to anything. It is not about positive thinking or pie in the sky. It is about work, and collective wisdom… and that does not come from a briefcase or bag. I suggest that we have work to do; and it may not be simple or pretty. It will require conversation, understanding and action. And, it is not the realm of gurus. My own work around character born of my 13 years with The Virtues Project™ says, to me, that this is freakin’ hard work; but vital work… and the kind of work that can unite us, if we dare.
I personally contend that character is the starting point of all great and small solutions. That does not mean that trust or courage or empathy (all virtues) are actions in and of themselves. It does not mean that they are “steps” to anything. It does mean that their application becomes a breeding ground for advanced capacity. Character is strength. Strength is character. At some level indeed, we all know this.
Still, we can now identify hundreds of virtues, all of which have purpose and value that is context specific. In looking at any given situation and determining what strengths of character are called upon, we enhance our capacity to respond to a given situation. My parents knew this in business. Many have known this over generations. This is not new, but it does need to be said., It is ancient and eternal wisdom, common sense… that is not common practice.
But in a world of increasing proximity and uncertainty, there needs to be a return to such strengths. Do I have the answers? Nope; except that conversations around the applications of these strengths are crucial in our times… and we will be part of that conversation. Virtues are not the domain of the young or old. They are not exclusive to ethnicity or color of skin or body politic. Indeed, the virtues are the one thing that make us all human. I have long professed that humanity is a high standard and inhumanity is base. As we practice and sharpen the things we call virtues, we grow in our humanity.
And that is not soft, warm or fluffy. I also contend that there is not one arena on the planet where character cannot play a role in advancement… economics, politics, technology, health, education, whatever. Character and its strengthening does not limit capacity. It grows it. We are better able to listen to one another and discern for understanding. We create better dialogues, over simple arguments. That added capacity results in higher creativity. We are truly empowered, not simply by action… but by strength of character.
No, this is not a post that has concrete steps for addressing specific problems. That is the realm of capacity and creativity and collective wisdom. This is a post that speaks to the foundational piece; character, and its science. So, if you are looking for something like steps and strategies, I will offer the 5 from The Virtues Project™, with my own understanding at play.
First, we can speak to the language of virtue. We need to have real and substantive conversations about these strengths, what they mean and how they can impact our systems and habits. Second, we need to heighten our attention to observing, reflecting and learning around the application of these strengths. In any given situation, which virtues are called upon and which worked? Third, we need to have conversations around boundaries and identities using this language. Instead of codes of ethics… consider codes of character. Who the hell are we as individuals and organizations and countries? Once we identify who we are as those individuals and organizations, we need to consider how our systems honor who we are. Do our economic cultures honor who we are as a society?, If not, how do we make them so? Does our company culture honor who we are as the people running and operating it? If not, we need to seek alignment. And, we need to be present, hearing and listening with purpose. These are not simple steps. They are areas for conversation and exploration so that we can build cultures, locally and globally, that serve those they are intended to serve. It is about integrity and alignment. No, these are not simple and measurable steps. No two organizations are alike. But these are guidelines to creating cultures and economies and systems that respond to the people they are ultimately intended to serve, at the local, regional and global level.
This is both small picture and big picture stuff.
I don’t have the answers but I have some of the questions. There are no quick fixes, no immediate transformations. There are necessary and collective conversations… and they are happening. We need more of them, and to be prepared to do the work that takes character and converts it into both capacity and creativity to develop cultures and systems that work.
Proximity and uncertainty in our world demand it. The dialogue among equals awaits. No simple fixes; just the hard work of defining a better way.
Peace, passion and prosperity… through character put to work.
Barry Lewis Green, aka The Unity Guy™