Character In Stressful Times

By Michael Hartoonian

Minnesota Character Council

CHARACTER Connect Vol.1 Issue 1

Attacking COVID-19 demands attention to clear communication, community involvement and character development. Communicating the best information— facts, definitions and calm consistency—as well as listening to and engaging the larger community is now part of leadership’s obligation. Understanding that the virus is as deadly to our mental health as it is to our physical health must be a major component of community conversations. This is the case because the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an attending dis-ease that’s effecting our children’s, as well as our own, mental well-being. Child abuse has increased by 22% since March (Kamanetz, A., NPR), and 45% of adults and 33% of children are reporting signs of mental and emotional issues (Calderon, V.J., Gallup).

The problem is not our brain but the swift and massive alteration of our environment. Similar numbers of mental stress are experienced after hurricanes, during wars and other catastrophes. This happens because we experience cultural and environmental phenomena that are strange—social distancing; store, school and firm closings; sickness and deaths; and a desperate feeling of helplessness. As a family, community and institution, we feel the financial and social pressures of simply paying our daily bills, not being able to hug our family members and friends, and caring about the well-being of others—wondering always, what will tomorrow bring?

We hear a great deal about what each of us can do, but the rhetoric and practices of citizens as well as of leaders are often nonaligned. We need to bring into line individual practices, with the deep principles of our civic/generational covenant, with common reciprocal duty, and with the spirit and humility of being truly human. In a word we need character. Our character is what will help us through the pandemic, move closer to racial and economic justice, and sustain mental health; all are the biggest stressors of today.

Thanks to school leaders who understand what happens in school through curriculum, treatment and relationships is vital to character development and hence a healthier society. Our character today, will always leave footprints in our future.

What Are Core Values? … The Ones You Decide!
Core values are the values you and your organization/school/community decide are important to you. They are often identified by using the 11 Principles framework, a guide to cultivate a culture of character in a school.

Principle 1 focuses on defining, implementing and embedding core values into the school culture. Schools that effectively emphasize character development bring together all stakeholders to consider and agree on specific character strengths that will serve as the school’s core values. These basic values transcend religious and cultural differences and express our common humanity.

Ideally, a balance of moral, performance, intellectual and civic character strengths, these “shared values” represent the school’s highest priorities and deeply held beliefs. A school committed to its students’ character development uses a common language to teach, model and integrate their core values into all aspects of school life. When Principle 1 is fully integrated, all staff, students, and parents can explain how their “shared values” are a distinctive feature of their school (

Understanding and using the 11 Principles framework not only helps schools identify core values, but to learn what effective character education is, how to build a school environment that fosters character development in students, who must be involved in designing the character education initiative and how to assess areas of strength and growth. To learn more visit

chased by the memoryMichael Hartoonian is the author of Chased by the Memory, a story about the ongoing search for family and love, and the inner arguments about the human desire to connect to something, even to the land. It is an investigation of the ethical and physical lessons that a person can learn by paying attention to his or her childhood.

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