Quite a Character

How to understand your own and others' personality traits

Healing Hurts Can Help

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School—where do we go from here?

At the root of much human malevolence is hurt. Injury evokes striking out at the source of the injury. Guns are tools available for striking out, but by no means the only or even primary ones.

So, where should our public discourse on the horrific recent killings in Connecticut focus? Should we focus on controlling access to guns? While certainly relevant, it does not get to the heart of the matter, which is how to create cultures and social institutions that are less hurtful to people who are “different.” If guns disappeared and the recent killing spree was limited to one or a few knifings or poisonings, would we consider it less tragic?

The fact is that we now have considerable knowledge about how to create cultures and environments that are much better at actually celebrating difference as opposed to demonizing it.

Let me share a recent quote from a parent in a fourth-grade classroom where the teacher taught the value of character strengths. “The kids can appreciate each other more, and instead of being critical and teasing and being hurtful to one another, they are able to build each other up more and see beyond something that may be a little quirky or different than themselves to see strengths that can have value to others in the classroom.”

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Deliberate efforts to educate one another about what’s best in each of us and to create organizations that focus on what’s best in each of us can attenuate both the frequency and intensity of hurts that we inflict on one another. Less hurt, less striking out – physically (with fists, or guns or whatever tools of violence) and psychologically (demeaning, disrespectful, harsh behavior).

I am not talking about squishy, touchy-feely psychological theory, but about facts. I am not talking about pie-in-the-sky impractical solutions, but established methods. We can reduce violence by creating relationships, organizations and cultures that cultivate what’s best in human beings – our strengths of character.

Visit the VIA Institute website to learn more about character strengths and using them to improve lives, organizations and relationships.

Watch a video on Positive Education in the Classroom.

Neal Mayerson, Ph.D., is the founder and Chairman of the nonprofit VIA Institute on Character.

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