How to proceed

2,500 years ago, around the dawn of civilization, a wise man determined there were three kinds of people:

  • Those who intuitively knew the way to live (natural saints),
  • People who could learn the way, and
  • People for whom fixed rules were necessary.

We should try to encourage as many people as possible in to the group that learns the way — the group that isn’t just told the way to live, but constantly asks, “Is what I want to do honorable?”

The question for everyone is, “Why should you choose a character-centered life?” That question really asks, “Why is a character-centered life in your own long-term best interest?”

Anyone who cares, can find the answer, if we remind them of their own signposts along the way.

Teaching Virtues

One approach to provide signposts is to teach virtues. While there are many virtues, here are a few examples:

  • Respect
  • Gratitude
  • Attentiveness
  • Integrity
  • Fortitude
  • Self-Control

Is it more helpful and productive to help people learn “to be” — respectful, attentive, grateful, or is it more helpful and productive to help people learn “process”? Process leads them to understand why the resulting virtues are in their long-term best interest. Process helps people discover for themselves why virtues are virtues.

The “Process” approach recognizes that when you master logic, it masters you. For instance, in mathematics, you know that “Two plus two equals four.” That logic has mastered you. You can say, “Two plus two equals five”, but in the very fiber of your being, you know the true. Mastered logic is strength. You can learn about “Fortitude” as a virtue, but mastered logic is a power to behold.

Teaching virtues, the first approach, is immediate and easier. It is popular. Much supporting material is available. Many other cities and schools teach virtues. The “Virtue of the month” is very popular.

Teaching just virtues can have unintended consequences. “Obedience” is important, until it comes into conflict with other virtues. Blind obedience is certainly not a virtue. How do you determine the difference?

So what can be taught that might be more effective than the virtues themselves?

Teaching more than virtues

Virtues are the result of thinking about yourself, society, life and your place in it. Our job is to seed the path with a handful of process concepts that people easily turn to to help themselves.


Virtue Process Concept
Gratefulness Sense of others.
Sense of time and one’s place in it.
Respect Sense of others.
Sense of time.
Attentiveness The mind only maps reality.

This doesn’t appear to be rocket science. Yet so much seems to have changed since our grandparents and parents grew up. Theirs was the “Greatest Generation” who won World War II, founded the United Nations, and created jobs in the Geat Depression with the WPA. Ours seems to have lost its bearings.

What is different? The previous generations often had grandparents either teaching the children or around the home. That automatically instills a “Sense of time and one’s place in it.” They were exposed to classical literature where great minds addressed the simple daily problems of living. The foundation of developing thought were the Seven Liberal Arts — of which the first three, known as the Trivium, are Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. Current generations are required to have character programs by state law, but the law is rudderless. Furthermore, the idea that we are teaching “tools for thought” is missing from state educational guidelines.

[Continued at Why a character-centered life?]

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