Building Character Strengths (MC-3)
In this blog, I would like to provide a bird’s eye-view of virtues and character traits as defined by the reputable VIA Character Institute and point out to a little-known civic organization that promotes character education in our schools.
Building Character Strengths
You can read about character strengths and character improvement on my webpage www.georgevasilca.org/character-traits. Over there, I define what character means and how it’s different from personality. In a nutshell, the character is what is inside us, while personality is the outside expression of our character. Character is the base of an iceberg hidden underwater; personality is the visible tip of the ice. Or, using another metaphor, character is the deep roots of a tree, whereas personality is its visible crown with branches, leaves, and fruits.
Character is one's true nature consisting of a full spectrum of traits such as moral values, a sense of purpose, virtues, self-esteem, identity, and conscience. Character is the essence of who the individual is, what he values and believes, and how he behaves. Doing the right thing the right way for the right reason all the time demonstrates the integrity of the character. This means that more often than not, one has to resist the easier wrongdoing in favor of the tougher right. Character communicates better than one thousand words, but it takes time to be revealed. Good character creates trust and respect, attracts good people, and provides the foundation for meaningful relationships. That is the awesome power of character!
VIA Character Traits
VIA Institute on Character is a pioneer in the new science of positive psychology. Institute’s mission is to help people change their lives by tapping into the power of their own most significant strengths. According to Professor Seligman, one of its founders, “Positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Positive psychology is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play”.
What a noble cause!
The Handbook of Character Strength and Virtues published by the Institute identifies six classes of virtues and twenty-four character strengths, also known as character traits, as follows:
The virtue of Wisdom: Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment, Love of learning, Perspective
The virtue of Courage: Bravery, Persistence, Honesty, Zest
The virtue of Humanity: Love, Kindness, Social intelligence
The virtue of Justice: Teamwork, Fairness, Leadership
The virtue of Temperance: Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-regulation
The virtue of Transcendence: Appreciation of beauty and excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Spirituality
In my view, this is a modern, rich, and practical classification of virtues and character traits. It is very useful for the busy person of the contemporary society because it reintroduces the forgotten term of virtue into our vocabulary, thus giving us a stable ground for comparison and classification. After studying this table for a while, it becomes relatively easy to see how specific strengths fit into a broader class of virtues. For instance, Bravery definitely fits well into Courage, while kindness belongs to Humanity.
I should point out that from a Christian perspective, the six VIA virtues are pretty close but not quite the same as the seven cardinal virtues defined by the church. This is how I would relate one to another:
VIA virtue of Wisdom is somehow related to the cardinal virtue of Prudence
VIA virtue of Courage is clearly the same as the cardinal virtue of Fortitude.
VIA virtue of Humanity is very much encompassing the cardinal virtues of Love and Hope
VIA virtue of Justice is clearly the same as the cardinal virtue of Justice.
VIA virtue of Temperance is clearly the same as the cardinal virtue of Temperance.
VIA virtue of Transcendence includes the cardinal virtues of Faith and Hope.
Take the VIA Character Test
I strongly encourage you to take the VIA personality test found at www.viacharacter.org. Do it not only for fun, but to improve the knowledge about yourself. You will be surprised by what you’ll discover! The survey lists its findings in three classes: Signature Strengths, Middle Strengths, and Lesser Strengths.
Signature strengths are core to who you are and expected come naturally to you. They are listed at the top of your profile and likely to be those that are most representative of the “real you.”
Strengths in the middle of your profile are considered somewhat like you. They may not feel as essential, effortless, or energizing as your signature traits, but they are still available when you need them.
Lesser strengths are found at the bottom of your profile. You should not consider them as weaknesses, but only traits that feel less natural and engaging most of the time.
For those of you wondering whether I put my money where my mouth is, the answer is, Yes, I did take the survey, and here are its partial results. Was I surprised? Only to some extent, but not too much. After a long life, one tends to see himself as he really is, not as he would like to be. I wonder, however, if my friends who know me for a long time would agree or not with VIA’s findings. Dear friends, would you care to leave a comment on this blog? Do it anonymously if it makes you more comfortable. I would really appreciate it.
This is me!
Building Character Strengths
Once you know your character strengths profile, you can develop strategies to improve your overall character. You will have three fundamental choices: enhance your signature and middle strengths, improve on your lesser strengths, or try to bring everything in balance.
(i) Enhancing your signature and middle strengths means to select a few of them you want to boost, and exercise them one by one, in a conscious manner, every day. Be your own coach; do it with persistence and determination.
(ii) Improving your lesser strengths should follow the same approach: select the ones you want to enrich and practice them daily.
(iii) Bringing everything in balance means to look at your VIA profile holistically and ask yourself: who is the person I want to become by working on my character traits? This is my favorite strategy because it lets me proactively approach my character development process: set a goal, work to accomplish it, and repeat the process.
For those of you who want to start from the basics, I recommend reading my book The Diamond Soul and simply follow its step-by-step instructions. It will take you from Stepping Stone 1 I am a Christian, to Stepping Stone 2 I am a Fighter, and so on until you reach the final Stepping Stone 5, Polishing your Character. I wish you good luck on your journey of self-improvement!
(Image reproduced by permission)
Character in Education
There is no dispute about it: all research shows that character education must start as early in life as possible. In other words, teach kids about character as soon as they can get it. Yet, this is precisely what our schools do not do. They teach the mind, but not the soul of the children, thus bringing to life the threat voiced up by our 26th president Teddy Roosevelt:
“To educate a person in the mind but not in the morals is to
educate a menace to society.”
But there is hope. A little-known civic organization located in Washington, DC, called Character.org, has engaged in the arduous task of introducing character education in the curriculum of American schools.
According to their website www.character.org, in 1993, a group of educators, researchers, and civic leaders came together to form a national organization devoted to fostering character development in schools and communities. Guided by the inspired commitment of Sanford McDonnell, the former CEO of McDonnell Douglas, they became the Character Education Partnership (now Character.org). Ever since, the mission of Character.org has been to provide the voice, visibility, and resources for educators to build nurturing and supportive school cultures that focus on a set of core values and character strengths vital to school success.
Character.org is widely known for its 11 Principles Framework for Schools: A Guide to Cultivating a Character-Inspired Culture, a comprehensive framework developed by school leaders and character education researchers. During the past 20 years, more than 800 schools – after an independent and rigorous evaluation process – have been recognized by Character.org as National Schools of Character. More recently, school districts have also been certified for their success in fostering character development.
The vision for Character.org is to continue our work in schools but expand our work to families and youth sports. In fact, we believe employers everywhere should follow the adage: “hire for character, train for skill.” By meeting people in every avenue of life, we hope to inspire and empower ethical, engaged, and compassionate citizens worldwide.
Currently the character.org is headed by Arthur Schwartz, a former executive at the John Templeton Foundation, and Professor of Leadership Studies and Founding Director of the Oskin Leadership Institute at Widener University.
I encourage you to visit www.character.org and support this worthwhile organization in any way you can.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and will benefit from its message. Please subscribe to my weekly Diamond Soul newsletter which will deliver informative and inspiring articles in your inbox every Monday. Thank you!