What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.
There has never been a more important moment in time to reach for the best in human nature, to transform our lives and our collective future. This series is based on our work with schools, organizations and neighborhoods in the U.S and around the world and is designed to be a catalyst, guide, and reference to help expand human goodness in ways that increase our personal and collective engagement, performance, and well-being.
This section addresses the brutal facts. Our world is challenging, but we can make it better. To accomplish this, two calls to action must be answered. The first is to get fierce about understanding and acting on your character strengths because it will expand your sense of engagement, meaning, relationships, and accomplishment – it will improve your well-being. And the second is to reach for the collective benefit we might realize by inspiring others to do the same. In today’s warp-speed world, human goodness is not at the top of the agenda. But we desperately need our character strengths now more than ever to face the many national and global challenges before us so we can improve, and not destroy, our human condition.
For any journey, we need tools and supplies. When I go camping, I pack so many supplies that it looks like I’m moving. The journey toward a rewarding life that is fiercely committed to human goodness also requires tools. Part Two includes ideas to help you know, see, and activate character strengths in your life and the lives of those around you.
And journeys are more fun with folks who know the ropes, so Part Two also includes inspirational stories of others (names have been changed) getting fierce about activating their character strengths. If only I’d had a knowledgeable friend along the first time I tried to build a tent out of a pile of nylon and poles!
Sometimes the journey isn’t direct. The best places to camp often require the most perilous trek. Every journey has bumps along the way, and your work creating a life of fierce character is no different. We can’t avoid challenges, but we can learn to handle them better, as this part of the series will show. Answers to questions frequently asked about character strengths and getting fierce about human goodness such as ”If I do this, do I still have to go to the gym?” (Just kidding, no one asks that…well, almost no one) can be found in Part Three.
Although the posts are written as a progression, please use the Table of Contents links to jump to any area that interests you and in any order that works for you.
I would love to hear what you think as you read. Please feel free to reach out to me via email.
Nelson, Ruth and You
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
Nelson Mandela personified FORGIVENESS
Annie Leibovitz embodies CREATIVITY
Malala Yousafzai is a symbol of BRAVERY
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the soul of JUDGEMENT
Rafael Nadal epitomizes ZEST
It is easy to be star struck by the outsized accomplishments of Rafael Nadal and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, even fun to imagine the roaring crowd that greets Nadal whenever he walks out on the court or how exhilarating it must feel to have Ginsberg’s fan club. But oftentimes the consequence of these thoughts is that we compare our relatively ‘ordinary’ life to theirs and find it- and ourselves- lacking. This negative afterimage leaves us blind to our own strengths. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Each and every one of us can, in a thousand small ways every day, positively shape our lives, the lives of those around us, and our shared future.
This may surprise you, but in their potential for human goodness, these people are no different from you or me or anyone else on the planet. Creativity, zest, and kindness reside in all of us, along with gratitude, love, perseverance, curiosity, fairness, and hope. They may be underutilized, but they are present. Our strengths are the best part of our shared humanity, acting as invisible threads connecting us to one another.
Imagine the following possibilities. What if your:
- new next-door neighbor risks personal injury to save your twelve-year-old dog from a rushing stream?
- organization restructures the company bonus plan to include – not just executives at the level above you – but all employees?
- car gets a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and you discover the spare has a flat, too (could totally be me!). But another driver stops to help and repairs it enough to get you to the closest auto repair shop?
- brother decides that he is ready to end his long-standing feud with your parents and join the family for the upcoming holiday?
- community, beleaguered by blight, holds a town hall event to discuss the issue, and the enthusiasm of a group of high school art students inspires a community-wide beautification effort?
That would add up to a pretty fantastic day, week, month, or even year, right? But guess what would make it even better? What if you were the initiator in one of these scenarios? What if you chose to exemplify bravery, zest, creativity, judgement and kindness? What if you were able to tap into the best of yourself, your own signature strengths, every day? Research suggests that nearly every area of your life would be positively affected including your sense of engagement and meaning, your relationships, your performance at work, and your physical and mental well-being. That is what this series is all about and I hope you will join me for it! Read what is required here.
(If it’s of interest to know why my personal story, you can read it here)
Power or Love?
What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Activating the best of our humanity doesn’t just occur by itself; somewhat surprisingly, it requires active cultivation. The biggest surprise to me though is that there are obstacles in the path that can almost make it feel counter-cultural to reach for the best within ourselves and inspire others to do the same.
More than two decades ago, I read Teresa Amabile’s, Brilliant but Cruel research and it has stayed with me ever since. Amabile uncovered our bias to associate negativity and criticism with higher intellect. In her research, those who were perceived as positive were seen as less intellectual. If you have ever been in a meeting with a group of experts of any sort, you likely had a front row seat to witness this bias in action!
To further compound things, some of our most beautiful character strengths are misconstrued as weaknesses. With Kofi Annan’s passing, Jens Stoltenberg said “His warmth should never be mistaken for weakness. Annan showed that one can be a great humanitarian and a strong leader at the same time.” The assumption here is that if not redirected, readers would believe Annan’s warm and loving humanity made him weak.
The dominant cultural message is that if you want to be viewed as smart and capable, you need to be critical and cold. How did being positive, warm and humane become so unexpected and unconventional?
If you want to live your best life and contribute to a positive future for our world, every ounce of your heartfelt and powerful intensity will be required. It may sound odd, but you must be fierce. Fierceness isn’t aggression. It is being committed, persistent, and unyielding in your effort to reach for human goodness at every turn. By fiercely activating your character strengths, you can make a dramatic shift in your life and the lives of others.
But there are even bigger stakes involved. You can also make an urgently needed contribution to the larger world which seems to be moving at a clip too fast for our humanity to keep pace. As we fiercely attend to character strengths and human goodness, we have the hope of bridging these two worlds. Read more here.