COMMENTARY: Competition in the Arts

Competition often brings out the best performance but it doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Even in the arts, actors, singers, dancers, and musicians must survive and thrive in a competitive community as rude and rough as any. Ambitious parents often introduce toxic gamesmanship and back-biting attitudes very early as their children are judged and ranked by the …

COMMENTARY: Emotional Resilience

Despite romanticized myths about the gloriously carefree teenage years, adolescence has always been an emotional battlefield where young people must fight their way through insecurity, depression and anger. For many teens, classrooms, playgrounds and hallways are hostile environments where name-calling, malicious gossip, taunting, and physical bullying regularly threaten their emotional and physical well-being Technology has not made kids meaner but …

COMMENTARY: The Ultimate Solution to Bullying in Schools: A Student-Led Culture of Kindness

Olivia Gardner was a sixth grader in Northern California when her life began to unravel. It started when she suffered an epileptic seizure in front of her classmates. Immediately, the name-calling began. The hallway insults and ridicule — “freak,” “retard,” “weirdo” — escalated into cyber-bullying when a few particularly nasty students set up an “Olivia Haters” website. One student dragged …

COMMENTARY: Everyday Ethics: What You Do in the Grocery Store

You can tell a lot about people’s character by how they act at the grocery store. I remember being in a crowded store when there was a shortage of shopping carts. A prosperous-looking fellow was pushing a cart when another man stopped him. “Excuse me,” the second man said, “but this is my cart.” The first guy looked really annoyed. …

COMMENTARY: School Principal: The Most Difficult CEO Job in the Nation

Schools all over the nation are struggling to modify their strategies to meet the Common Core demands regarding critical thinking and problem solving. They must also find ways to teach 21st Century workplace skills, enhance students’ social and emotional development, and, of course, build their character so they become responsible and productive citizens. Oh, they must also be sure to create an …

COMMENTARY: Justin’s Introduction to Candor

When my son Justin was in high school, I went to an open house to meet his teachers. I was taken aback when one teacher casually mentioned that she had disciplined my son for cheating on a homework assignment. I asked my son why he hadn’t told me about this incident. “You didn’t ask,” he said. To say the least, …

COMMENTARY: Parents Are Teachers First

When John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, referred to the last game he “ever taught,” he was asked about this phrasing. He said simply that a coach is first and foremost a teacher who should not only improve his players’ athletic skills, but also help them become better people. And he was a superb teacher whose lasting influence is reflected …

COMMENTARY: Advice About Teens

Here are three suggestions for the parents of young teens, all learned through my own mistakes: First, remember, with emerging demands for independence, worries about peer acceptance, pressures of school and extra-curricular activities and a continuous search for self-identity, adolescents are on a physical and emotional roller coaster. Like every generation before them (including yours), young teens are often arrogant …

COMMENTARY: Box Full of Love

Todd was a sadly quiet eleven-year-old struggling to adjust to the death of his mother. His father left long ago and he was living with an aunt who made it known that she resented the responsibility. On several occasions, Sheryl, the boy’s teacher, heard the aunt tell Todd, “If it weren’t for my generosity you would be a homeless orphan.” …

COMMENTARY: The Struggle Between Wants and Shoulds

As a full-time ethicist – can you believe there is such a thing? – I spend most of my time talking about right and wrong with parents and politicians, kids and corporate managers, journalists and generals. One thing I’ve learned is that ethics – being a good person and doing the right thing – is easier said than done. Ethics, …

COMMENTARY: Middle School Commencement

When I was asked to deliver the commencement address at my nephew Jaren’s middle school graduation, I worried more than normal. After all, 14- and 15-year-olds are especially tough. First, they’re subject to torrential hormonal surges that can generate vast mood and personality swings. They can be wonderfully agreeable and fun to be with one moment, then sullen and argumentative the …

COMMENTARY: The Commencement Curse

Millions of teenagers across the land are about to leave the womb of high school for a world full of new freedoms and responsibilities. Although many have been waiting for this event for a long time, eager to get on with their lives as liberated adults, the thought of leaving behind friends and familiar places can be scary. The transition …

COMMENTARY 987.5: The One-Minute Graduation Speech

I’ve given lots of commencement addresses and, despite the silly hat, it’s a head-swelling experience to tell a captive crowd how they should live their lives. The problem is, speakers are to graduations what turkeys are to Thanksgiving, except people are much more interested in a turkey on a platter than a turkey behind a podium. What we need is …

COMMENTARY 987.2: Memorial Day, a Day of Remembrance

It’s not just an excuse for a three-day weekend or a day for barbecue and beer. Memorial Day is a time for Americans to connect with our national history and core values by honoring those who gave their lives fighting for this country. It’s said that this special day to salute fallen Americans was born during the Civil War in …

COMMENTARY 987.1: A Short-Haired Role Model

A popular way to encourage charitable donations is to invoke people to “give till it hurts.” Mrs. Rosario Rivera, an elementary school teacher in Puerto Rico, takes a very different approach, urging her students to “give until it feels good.” Mrs. Rivera teaches English at the José Ramón Rodriguez Elementary School in the town of Coamo in Puerto Rico. Her …

COMMENTARY 986.5: Teach or Punish, That Is the Question

As Greg paces the floor, waiting for his 17-year-old daughter Sandy to return from a school event, he feels two conflicting emotions: fear and anger. Fear that something terrible has happened to her. Anger because he thinks his fear is probably unfounded and Sandy is not hurt, simply irresponsible. Finally, Sandy calls. She’s all right. She just lost track of …

COMMENTARY 986.2: “I Didn’t Want the Janitor to Lose His Job”

The primary responsibility for instilling good values and building character is with parents. This doesn’t mean, however, that teachers and coaches don’t have a critically important role. The unfortunate fact is that far too many kids are raised in morally impoverished settings that foster lying, cheating, and violence. If we don’t give these children moral instruction, many of them will …

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Commencement Speeches: The Best Of

Sheryl Sandberg at UC Berkeley Steve Jobs at Stanford University: John F. Kennedy at American University: J.K. Rowling at Harvard University: Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University: Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth College: Oprah at Spellman College: Denzel Washington University of Pennsylvania:

COMMENTARY 985.1: Making Lives

A few years ago I came across a video by a very dynamic speaker, a former middle school teacher named Taylor Mali. He is now what’s called a performance poet — someone who delivers poetry as singers deliver songs. The poem that caught my attention was “What Do I Make?” an articulate and aggressive response to a critic who was putting down teachers. …

COMMENTARY 984.4: Is It Really Only About Winning?

Long ago, I entered law school wanting to do good. I left more concerned with doing well. In an atmosphere dominated by raging competitive instincts, persuasive rationalizations, and real economic pressures, cynicism drowned out idealism. My notion of the legal system as a grand forum for the pursuit of truth and justice was reduced to the idea that, in the …

COMMENTARY 984.1: Changing Self-Limiting Beliefs and Bad Behavior

Shavonne, a third-grade teacher, was at the end of her rope with disciplinary problems, but she wasn’t enthusiastic when she was told that her school had adopted the CHARACTER COUNTS! program. Now she was expected to explicitly seek to instill and enhance in her students core ethical values like honesty, respect, and responsibility, and to help them develop positive social …

COMMENTARY 983.3: Eight Laws of Leadership

Take a look around. Business, education, politics. If there’s one thing we don’t have enough of, it’s good leaders —men and women who have the vision and the ability to change things for the better. Former Air Force General William Cohen wrote a fine book called The Stuff of Heroes in which he identified eight laws of leadership. Here are …

COMMENTARY 982.3: Doing Sports Right

When I was a kid playing sports, there were no clubs, travel teams, or private coaches. Except for summer baseball leagues, the primary place to play was high school. When I was in the 10th grade, I wanted to play basketball in the worst way. Unfortunately, given my size and talent, that’s how I played. But in those days, sports …

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COMMENTARY 981.5: The Disease of Low Expectations

The serious damage done to our economy, social institutions, and personal relationships by widespread cheating and dishonesty is bad enough. But widespread acceptance of such behavior as inevitable threatens to make our future a lot worse. In effect, our culture is being infected by a disease: the disease of low expectations. The disease is manifested by the corrosive assumption that …

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COMMENTARY 981.1: Getting Started

Chris’s parents were proud of him when he graduated from college. But it’s been six months and he hasn’t gotten a job yet. In fact, he hasn’t looked seriously. He has no idea what he wants to do and he’s thinking of grad school. He’s living at home with his parents and things are getting tense, especially with his father, …

COMMENTARY 980.2: Family Values

Our values — the core beliefs that drive behavior — determine our character, our ethics and our potential. Thus, the most important thing we can do for our children is to stimulate them to develop positive values that will help them become wise, happy and good. This is no simple matter. The first step is to achieve greater clarity about …

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COMMENTARY 979.3: What Do You Want to See More of and Less of?

Inspirational author and speaker Stephen Covey once said, “Start with the end in mind.” So whenever a company wants to launch an ethics initiative, we at Josephson Institute use a simple exercise: “Look at your organization today – its managers, line employees, and customers – and list behaviors and attitudes you’d like to see more of and less of.” We …