A few months back we had a request to keynote a conference in character education in Taipei, Taiwan sponsored by the Common Wealth Magazine Group. We weren’t able to accommodate their request given our current commitments, so instead they asked to come and visit us and to spend time interviewing and recording us regarding our approach to character education. We field a fair number of international requests on our work (with inquiries in the past two or three months from Canada, Singapore, Iran, and Papua New Guinea); it is very humbling and inspiring to experience our work on an international stage. We are still a small team; we’re working hard every day to refine our programs and materials to a point where they have deep and lasting impact; and, like most non-profits, we’re trying to raise the money needed to keep our organization alive and well. Bottom line: we’re a small, hand-to-mouth organization hustling to make a difference. So, it’s a little strange to take time out of a busy week to welcome guests from the other side of the world, who show up simply wanting to learn about what we do and how we do it.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m an international man of intrigue–heck, I’m not even a national man of intrigue! I love the idea of intenational travel, but with a young family and a young organization I often say no to international work because it’s literally and figuratively too big for me to get my arms around. I firmly believe that our Power2Programming is contextually calibrated in a way that is nuanced beyond anything we’ve ever done; but it takes hard work to make the changes needed to make it work in different contexts like school, work, athletics and home–in the U.S! It’s not what we know about our work, it’s what we don’t know about the cultural nuances of a foreign country, that make me wonder if what we’re doing would matter or make a difference to other countries around the world.
Well, our visitors, Ya-Huei Chen and Huan-Shih Yang, quickly helped me to remember one of Harry Stack Sullivan’s great insights: “Human beings are more simply human, than other.” Taiwan is indeed a unique culture, many ways different than our own. But they have a deep belief in the importance of character and culture. And, they struggle with many of the same basic challenges we face: how do you develop character and culture when you have different political, religious, and educational viewpoints? How do you develop character and culture in and intense and intentional way when you have parents who are increasingly busy and time-challenged? How do you develop character and culture in an intense and intentional way without educators feeling that character education is “one more thing”? How do you explain that there is a new science of character education that goes beyond intuition and intention, while respecting the time-tested wisdom and practices? How does one develop the character NEEDED FOR youth who are growing up in a fast-paced, media-driven culture, that is dramatically different than the culture experienced by their parents, to say nothing of their grandparents? How do we live a balanced, purposeful, and fulfilling life, making the most of our talents, and yet nourishing important relationships in our life.
It was a fascinating conversation. I am even more humbled by this important undertaking we have committed our life’s work to, and reassured that for all our differences, we are still a shared human family trying to figure out how to develop the character and culture needed for success in school, work, and beyond. I think our conversation with Ya-Huei and Huan-Shih is only getting started.