Sunday, September 3, 2017

Values transcend divisive ideologies - Column for the Las Cruces Bulletin - September 1, 2017

      For most of my life, I have been fascinated with space exploration.  I still have a collection of articles from two major periodicals - yes, from the 1960s and 1970s - about the Gemini and Apollo programs.  As I write this article, I am watching “The Farthest: Voyager in Space,”  the documentary commemorating the 40th anniversary of the launches of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.   The documentary “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo” chronicled the incredible support work of the team on the ground during the Apollo flights in earth orbit and to the moon and back.   

     The discoveries that resulted from these space missions are still amazing and wondrous.   What also captured my admiration and respect was the teamwork that enable these missions to be successful.   If I were to make a list of values/character traits that the scientists and engineers exhibited in their great work, it would need to include ingenuity, tenacity, curiosity, patience, perseverance, cooperation, creativity, partnership, responsibility, dependability, and trust.  

      Values have been on my mind a lot this year, as well as the importance of individual character building that can lead to strengthening the foundation of a community.  

      I recently attended the NewCAJE Jewish educators convention outside Oakland, California.  On the last night of the conference, we were treated to a talk by filmmaker Tiffany Schlain.    She spoke to us about her efforts to create movements towards improving who we are as individuals and as a worldwide community. Schlain founded the Webby Awards, which are presented annually to the best websites.          

        Schlain believes that we are in a world of interdependence, a reality that calls on us to be more considerate of   each other, more hopeful and thankful, more creative and loving, and more 

respectful and responsible.  To help make that possible, Schlain created Global Character Day, which has been marked by programs worldwide over the last several years.  Based on a long history of how we can improve ourselves, she created a “periodic table of character strengths” that categorizes a variety of traits into the categories of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence.  For example, in this character-based periodic table, associated with wisdom are creativity, curiosity, love of learning, perspective and multi-disciplinary thinking.   Justice is tied to social responsibility, teamwork, fairness, leadership, taking initiative.  Courage is defined by bravery, perseverance, honesty and enthusiasm.  

     Schlain also added a “spiritual overlay” based on a movement of moral development in Judaism called “Mussar.”  That version of Global Character Day focuses on “how to be a mensch,” where, in Jewish tradition, a “mensch” is a decent human being.   

     I have always been a believer in character education. Values transcend many of the ideologies that divide us, enabling us to see that we may have much in common  with people who don’t agree with us otherwise. Tiffany Schlain’s periodic table may be nothing new, but if offers us a timely reminder that we human beings still have it in us to be people of good character. It is a project on which we should embark inside ourselves and in concert with one another every single day.   It is values such as these that have enabled us to make great discoveries, and could continue to lead us on that path in the years to come

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