I am on a small cramped airplane between Philadelphia and Columbus. I am going to attend the Army’s Master Resiliency Course. I look forward to learning and applying what I’ve learned with my current endeavors to help in the reintegration of soldiers in Oregon and beyond. Part of the preparation of the class was to fill out the VIA. Since I have already done this (February 19, 2008) I simply printed it out from then. This brings to mind a question, however, if these character strengths are state or trait.
I opened my laptop and cranked up my Papers program and looked up the articles that I had from Peterson and Seligman, roughly 6 and 7 respectively, to see what the research says to this question. Yet before I could get there I got sidetracked by an article by Seligman (2006, American Psychologist) where he lists various things to boost happiness.
- Using Your Strengths: Take the VIA-IS strengths questionnaire to assess your top 5 strengths, and think of ways to use those strengths more in your daily life.
- Three Good Things/Blessings: Each evening, write down three good things that happened and why you think they happened.
- Obituary/Biography: Imagine that you have passed away after living a fruitful and satisfying life. What would you want your obituary to say? Write a 1–2 page essay summarizing what you would like to be remembered for the most.
- Gratitude Visit: Think of someone to whom you are very grateful, but who you have never properly thanked. Compose a letter to them describing your gratitude, and read the letter to that person by phone or in person.
- Active/Constructive Responding: An active-constructive response is one where you react in a visibly positive and enthusiastic way to good news from someone else. At least once a day, respond actively and constructively to someone you know.
- Savoring: Once a day, take the time to enjoy something that you usually hurry through (examples: eating a meal, taking a shower, walking to class). When it’s over, write down what you did, how you did it differently, and how it felt compared to when you rush through it.
My VIA top 5 strengths are as follows:
- Bravery and Valor
- Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality
- Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
- Curiosity and Interest in the World
- Perspective (Wisdom)
While I might have questions about the state/trait specifics of these virtues, they are a pretty good picture of me. I am admittedly surprised that bravery consistently comes up as a top virtue of mine. I don’t consider myself brave. There have been many times when I’ve not been brave at all. However I was listening to an audiobook recently (50 Dangerous Ideas in Philosophy) and it got to the notion of ethics, valor, and duty in regard to what we condemn or praise in other’s behaviors. What struck me was that there were examples of people who acted bravely and with valor but when questioned they responded that they did not act out of bravery so much as out of duty. I identified with this statement. There are times when a sense of duty, fairness, or justice compels me to act in a manner that some might typify as brave. For me, however, I cannot act in any other way. I am told that my public speaking events are examples of bravery. Yet to me I am incapable of acting in any other way. Any chance I have of not doing so is minimized as I learn more about the prevalence of suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse, relationship problems, depression, joblessness, and more among my fellow veterans.
As I learn more about the unfair, unjust, undeserved plight of women in the military, and of men also who experience military sexual trauma (MST) I cannot help but act. I have added military culture to my lectures, will add domestic violence and anger issues, and will soon add sexual discrimination/abuse/trauma, particularly among women. Plainly speaking, I am in a position of strength, power, and privilege. I am a white male. To some to listen to a minority speak their opinion is to hear the ‘other’ complain. They only hear ‘whining’. While it is necessary for a group’s members to establish their own identity and affirm their own rights and worth, it is also important that members of the privileged group speak out on their own privilege. Again, the more I learn, the less comfortable I am in saying nothing.
It is two days later and I am writing this in my hotel room off of base. Day 2 of training has come and gone. We watched a video called Team Hoyt. It was amazing. His son is a paraplegic with cerebral palsy. The parents discovered that their son’s eyes followed them around the room and that there was a person inside of there. So they worked hard to give him a normal education and to treat like a normal boy. Some researchers from Tufts devised a means of communicating where he can select a letter by sight and choose it with a tap of his head. His first words were “Go Bruins” (a hockey team). The son had wanted to participated in a benefit run to aid a cause (it escapes me now) and the father pushed him in the race. The father and son duo then went on to run in many, many races and triathlons. When asked about a wish the son said he wished he could push his dad in a chair for a race.
This video is amazing. It is certainly elevating to witness this father pull a boat in the water on a triathlon. But what really amazes me is the pieces that are not in the video. I’ve run two marathons, the second hurt more than the first. There is the marathon itself, which is a climatic event, but this is really a tip of an iceberg of lots of training and preparing. There is a lot of love seen in these videos, but what mountain of love must there be in that family for the day to day to day to day life. I am truly amazed.
And yet I also feel ashamed. I am having two emotional reactions. A friend has said in a class that we cannot hold two emotions at the same time. Maybe, maybe not. But I am see-sawing internally. On one side I am filled with more resolve to do more for veterans, and others. On the other side I am filled with much guilt for all the things I’ve not done. I’ve had ‘moments’, but my life isn’t one of constant dedication but instead is filled with waste. It isn’t a purposeful as I could be. It isn’t as purposeful as it should be.
In the resiliency training we are undergoing this would be an example of an iceberg. An unconscious belief that derails me or gives rise to a large disproportionate emotion.
I am hoping to learn a lot here. The theory behind all of this is already familiar to me. I was exposed to it via a great class at Portland State and I’ve been reading up and contemplating it lately for my presentations. Nothing, thus far, is different than how I already approach things, particularly with my current endeavors in domestic violence group work. However there are new tools and techniques that I am learning. I hope to acquire as many tools for my toolbox as possible so that I might find something that even the harshest skeptic might use to aid in self knowledge.
But the skills must first be applied to myself. On my iPhone is an app called LiveHappy that I used to use a lot but have fallen out of using. I need to get back into these habits. Habits. I am reminded of Covey, who quoted Aristotle:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
I could continue on, however I have an an assignment to finish before tomorrow’s class and it is getting late.