“Find the things in life that make you cry. That makes you feel. Because they’re what make you human.”

  • Joseph Adama, in the show Caprica

Character is shaped by families, schools, and cultures, including art, literature, religion, and philosophy. Although our unique character is deeply embedded in each of us, character is learned and thus grows and changes with experience over time, intention, and influence. Character shows in our morality, integrity, choices, and courage to do the right thing. Character is destiny: Your values and beliefs frame how you see the world, shape your thoughts and choices, and, over time, forge your destiny.

A primary value of American national character is expressed in the U.S. motto: “e Pluribus Unum,” out of many, one. Diversity is our strength economically and socially. Responsible capitalism brings out the best in us to solve economic problems and has built the most robust economy on Earth. This applies culturally as well. America has a tradition of welcoming immigrants who bring the best of their cultures to ours, and by adopting the best of the best, we all benefit. David Brooks on the Importance of Character: https://youtu.be/tcyvzjfrT_U

Foundations, principles, and values

What is good character? Character is the ‘mystery’ ingredient of a vibrant and healthy democracy, which cannot be legislated and can only be developed and nurtured by each of us. Character includes our values and morals learned from experience, family values, authors and teachers, and philosophies and religions. Character includes our values and standards: the criteria and filters guiding our choices and actions. Character is what we look for in the mirror when we judge ourselves.

Character does not develop in isolation. Character develops through experiences that challenge us and test us. The experiences that test us and make us grow in character include problem and conflict resolution, work experience, parenting, managing, leading, reading, and studying outside our comfort zone. Character growth is difficult; we are occasionally confronted with realities that don’t fit our views. So, if we can act with integrity and be honest with ourselves, we will grow. If not, we stagnate. Since time marches forward and situations evolve, why not lean into growth and life? Each day is new; keep starting.

Our character also develops with exposure to art and culture: we are shaped by stories and moved by beauty. Art and culture abound in our society. We all have favorite songs, shows, books, comedians, and influencers that show us our faults and guide us to who we are. These are our favorites because they teach us what we hold close to. They help us define ourselves and show us new ways of being. Reading literature and biographies, movies, and streaming shows lets us ‘try on’ the lives of others, allowing us to adopt for ourselves the ideas and worldviews of those who have gone before us. We are influenced by each other; we are all social learners.

Status: Issues & Challenges

National character is the collective expression of individual character. Developments in our culture have given so many of us a voice. There is a renaissance of culture on the web, in our media, art, and culture. We have made progress with public communications platforms, but these offer too many meaningless and incomplete communications and allow bad actors’ and bots disruptive voices. Our regulatory infrastructure has not kept up, so we must lean into the public dialogue, become informed, redefine, model, and reward good character.

The historical failing of character is Hubris. Hubris is excessive pride; excessive pride can blind us to our failing, which can then be our downfall. Many Americans think the U.S. is the greatest country on Earth; if you challenge this, you must be unpatriotic. Of course, we need self-confidence to move forward, but “winning is everything” and “never admit defeat” ethics rampant in our culture make us blind to our shortcomings and keep us from honest self-assessment and growth.

The Newsroom Speech  https://youtu.be/8WxdaU9AsnU

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We have a slippery slope problem. For each misbehavior that goes unchecked, our standards slowly erode. When lawsuits are settled out of court without admission of obvious guilt, white-collar crime goes unpunished, organizations abuse their responsibility to all stakeholders, and our leaders set poor examples, our moral standing diminishes. When criminal investigations are hampered (Dobbs leak investigation) or the results buried (Barr interference with the Mueller report), faith in justice is damaged. The do-anything-to-win ethic erodes morality.

Bad actors are dramatically threatening our democracy. Blatant lying has infected our politics and is spreading in our culture. Donald Trump, who, as the U.S. President, sets an example for our citizens and the world, made 30,573 documented false and misleading claims over four years. World opinion of the U.S. has dropped in the past few years from 53% satisfied to 37% satisfied. Those who want unchecked power seek to create distrust of the media to silence their critics. Some politicians and groups are even actively and openly advocating totalitarian solutions.

Those leaders who stood for the Common Good at the expense of their jobs and for democracy are heroes. They show good character.

Program Opportunities

The PSA will educate, empower, and engage people to value and pursue good character in self and others through reflection, right action, and personal engagement in the affairs of society and through art and cultural activities.

Suggestions for action:

  • Develop a course and workshop where members can assess and develop their character.
  • Start a study group for life-changing art.
  • Start a book club or video club to help members develop as people.
  • Develop a course and workshop on the study of Truth.
  • Develop a course and workshop to help members not get fooled by demagogues and fascists.
Michael Freedman

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