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Not Your Grandmother's Definition of "Character"

July 4, 2015


The term "character" often brings to mind antiquated notions of being "prim and proper," saying "please" and "thank you," acting in a morally superior way, and trying to appear "perfect" in order to impress society. In short, I have often thought of character as acting in a way that would make your grandmother proud.


However, recent reports reveal that character is not simply some old-fashioned idea. Instead, scholars are redefining character from an outwardly-focused series of traits designed to impress others to a self-driven set of skills that propel an individual to success. In particular, these reports show that certain character traits are intricately connected with success in almost every aspect of a person’s life—school, work, relationships, family, and community, among other areas. 


Two character skills dramatically improve a person’s chance of success in life and matter as much as cognitive skills. The first skill is "drive" (a.k.a. fortitude, tenacity, perserverance), as shown in part by Angela Duckworth’s “grit scale.” The second skill is "prudence" (a.k.a. foresight, delayed gratification, valuing the future as much as the present) as initially shown by the well-known "marshmallow test."  


To read the Essay Series on Character and Opportunities from the Character & Opportunity Project (published by the Brookings Center on Children and Families), click the following link http://www.brookings.edu/about/centers/ccf/character-opportunity-project.


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