Ethicist Michael Josephson spoke at the Dillon Lecture Series at Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas on November 9. He founded “Character Counts” in 1993 to teach students and others integrity. More than 7,000,000 students have been involved with the program based on six pillars of character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship.
He offered many summations I thought were worthy of note. Some were funny and some more thoughtful. I jotted down some of them to share here.
We are all building our own houses.
If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to get what you’re getting.
I want to be thin… when I’m not hungry.
You don’t have to be sick to get better.
When you really believe something you want to share it.
Kids don’t care what you know until they know you care.
Everyone has a label that says, “Make me feel important.”
Someone who lies for you will lie to you.
First and foremost you’re an individual responsible for your own actions.
He spoke about rational decisions and rationalization. He said the rational decision process is that you reason first and come to the conclusion. Rationalization is when we reach the decision then come up with the reasons for it. He said, “Rationalization is an anesthetic to the conscience.”
He shared numbers from a recently released report on values and conduct of American Youth that included 43,000 students.
55% of boys and 33% of girls had been bullied in the past 12 months
53% of students said they have hit someone because they were angry
28% of Seniors had five or more drinks in the past two weeks
26% of Seniors have used illegal drugs at least once in the past month
18% of boys and 12% of girls have had sex with at least four different partners
11% of girls have been forced to have intercourse at least once in her life
14% of girls have been pregnant at least once
64% have cheated on an exam in the last year (67% of athletes)
He said the true test of integrity is, “my willingness to do the right thing even when it costs more than I want to pay.”
Some schools in the area participate in the program, and one of them mentioned at the luncheon that they just started the program last year, but a disciplinary standard they’re tracking went from more than 300 last year, to 13 so far this year. Josephson says the idea is to make character part of the DNA of a community or school.
At the luncheon, someone asked if this program could work without the parents being involved and Josephson said it certainly did. Sometimes parents are part of the problem, he said, “Parents are a mixed bag,” and represent all the behaviors possible. He said sometimes they’re, “reprogramming kids from some of the problems.”
Someone asked if this was a religion-based program. Of course, it’s not, since it’s used in public schools. When he was questioned more about religion in schools, he gave a great answer that it was best to keep them separate, because not everyone shared the same faith – he is Jewish for example, and he wanted the program to be able to reach the most people. He went on to say that character and religion were not tied together, saying, “There are people of character who have no religion.”
Another question was about what is legal. He said legal is the bare minimum and “ethics is much broader than the law.”
He spoke about politics saying “I think most people in politics are much better than their campaigns indicate.” He asked an important question, “Why did compromise become such an ugly word? Democracy requires compromise.” He said he wants people who can change their minds. That means you can receive new information. He said, “Thinking people disagree.”
The Character Counts program is about starting with a notion of core values and a common language. He said we need to institutionalize continuity so regardless of who the mayor or superintendant is the program continues..