As we approach Memorial Day, it is fitting we take a look at some good examples of virtue by looking at the stories of wounded warriors who fought for America. In 7 Warriors with Character you will see how, through their persistence, perseverance and good habits, several warriors were courageous not only in combat, but also, in overcoming the loss of their sight or limbs, in overcoming the effects of traumatic brain injuries. All were able to achieve greatness of character by calling upon the virtues they had practiced and use them to overcome their injuries.
Sam Angert … whose parents came to this country from Russia. Soon after arriving Sam’s father ended up in jail and while adjusting to NYC we find Sam, a Jewish soldier fighting in a Muslim country. Not long in theater, Sam’s vehicle is hit by an explosion Sam’s LT is decapitated while sitting next to him in the HUMVEE. Sam is gravely injured in the same blast… Soon thereafter Sam relates to me… “It was time for a come to God talk with myself. I decided that I would not allow anything or anyone to hold me back from my new mission of getting better. I would not allow people to look at me with pity because I was severely hurt. I would not simply give up on myself because as soon as I did that, settle for failure, others would feel the same way.”
Steve Baskis who was blinded by an IED and after recovering from his injuries climbed the Himalayas. Steve told me … “ I was born to be resilient. Here is what I learned faced from all the adversity that I have faced. No matter what happens, if you think positively, never dwell on the negative, never give up on yourself, and drive as hard and as fast as you can let nothing keep you from building and living a great life.”
Justin and Dahlia’s story… Marine officer, a lawyer with a sense of humor, was shot in the face by a sniper … a Marine Corporal risks both their lives driving Justin to safety… amidst roadside IED’s and other threats from the enemy. Meanwhile, Justin’s girl friend is studying for a Ph.D. at Cambridge University. Dahlia hears of Justin’s injuries and immediately drops her studies. She leaves to be with Justin and she is at his side when he awakens from a coma in the hospital. Dahlia stayed by Justin’s through scores of surgeries and years of rehabilitation and a few years later they walked up the wedding aisle together.
Chase Cooper was blown up by an IED and after his long rehabilitation is starting his own support group for other wounded warriors. Here is what Chase says after his combat injuries… “So many people got me where I am today, and the only thing I can do is to help another wounded warrior get to the same place. I have found through all this that I am not in charge. My platoon Sergeant is not in charge. God is. So I tell them to change their mind set, have faith, have hope. Even when things seem impossible, perseverance and resilience will carry you through, no matter what the struggle.”
During the battle for Fallujah, a wall collapsed on Chad burying him in rubble up to his neck. As he lay there while his fellow Marines tried to save him, he later recalls… “My story is about perseverance, redemption and grace. The good examples my parents and grandparents set for me gave me enough inner strength, discipline and motivation to out last the struggles that I later faced as a Marine. I hope that by reading my story and those of other warriors, readers gain a better understanding of what it takes to recover successfully from traumatic injuries. In my case, recovery required mental toughness but it also required God’s help and the loving commitment of family members.”
Corporal Todd Nicely not only lost his arms but his legs too, becoming only the second American to survive the Afghanistan war after losing all four limbs. Todd stepped on a pressure plate and triggered the blast. Todd screamed once or twice but remembered thinking to himself: “don’t do that again, because this is the last image that these boys are going to have of you in their heads. So stay strong. After that I just shut up.” When Todd woke up in the hospital his wife Crystal (also a Martine) was there. “Do you know what is wrong? She asked. Todd said he did. “Well baby, you know you are missing your legs?” Yeah Todd said, I know. “Do you know you are missing both of your hands?” she asked crying. “No,” Todd. He was quite for a minute and then asked, “Did anybody else get hurt? She said, “No.” “Good” he said and that was the end of it. Todd shared the following with me… “We are Todd and Crystal Nicely. We both handled the rehabilitation like good Marines. We just take one breath at a time. One surgery at a time, one step at a time.”
Brad Synder, a Naval Academy graduate, an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) specialist, after being blinded by an IED states he can now “see” how the core Navy values of Honor, Courage and Commitment have become an integral part of his character development. Brad explained to me his understanding of honor was also built upon the teaching of his father who took an early interest in imbuing me with a comprehensive understanding of that virtue. High-level competition in swimming in high school further taught Brad the virtue of courage. Brad’s family “never missed a beat and never left his side during his rehabilitation.” Brad says, “the amount of love and support I received in the short period following my injury was the most inspiring experience I’ve had in my short life.” Finally, Brad tells me, “that during the rehabilitation process is where I learned the true meaning of brotherhood: the shared willingness to make sacrifice in the name of something greater than the individual or for another brother. Through personal adversity, I learned the true meaning of commitment.”
Courage, bravery and valor are basically synonymous but there are different types of courage.
Physical courage is the type involved in overcoming the fear of physical injury or death in order to save others or one self.
Moral courage entails maintaining ethical integrity at the risk of losing friends, employment, privacy or prestige. In its most classic form, physical courage is the valor on the battlefield.
Cicero defined courage to include physical valor, yes, but also integrity and perseverance, any act of willfully overcoming your own security, comfort, complacency to achieve a greater good. Cicero meant courage is doing what is right even when one has much to lose.
Moral courage often relates to fear of others’ opinions. Looking foolish before peers, for example is a common fear. But moral courage compels an individual to do what he or she believes is right, despite fear of social or economic consequences.
Courage is reflected in acts that ignore your own needs and serve others first. Your acts of courage create a bond with your classmates, fellow-soldiers, and fellow-citizens. Courage can be promoted by practice (moral habit) by example (modeling) and by developing certain attributes of the individual (self-confidence).
Persistence, perseverance, industrious… finishing what you start; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; taking pleasure in completing tasks.
So do you need to cultivate the virtue of courage? How do you plan to do so? Might you share with us examples of courage in your lives? Might working on courage today prepare you for you challenges in your future?
Today I wish to drill deeper into one of the cardinal virtues the ancients called fortitude, which we commonly call courage. Let’s also think about the different types of courage, that is, physical and moral courage.
Then I would like to share with you stories of Courage in America based on my working with wounded warriors not much older than you.
Now let’s define character…. I view character as having a lifelong commitment to acquire virtue. It is doing what is right when duty or conscience call, especially when it is hard or will be unpopular.
For Aristotle, virtue is an acquired skill learned through trial and error. The doctrine of the mean is related to this characterization of virtue: One encounters a situation and, basing the decision on reason, experience and context, picks a course of action from between two extremes of disposition, those of deficiency or excess. The mean between the two is virtue: courageous is the mean between cowardliness and rashness.
I wish to begin today’s talk by asking each of you a question, one that the very first Greek philosophers asked …
“Who is a good person?”
Next I seek your help by defining what is character?
Then I would like you to help me name and define different virtues? Do you know the “cardinal virtues”?
Finally, we will focus on one virtue and demonstrate how seven warriors practiced it.
The ancients asked these same questions. They examined character and what we now call the “Cardinal Virtues.” The ancient Greeks like; Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, as well as early Christian Doctors of the Church like St Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, agreed that the virtues of prudence, justice, courage and temperance are traits of character that make someone a good person. These strengths of character when cultivated and practiced provide the explanation of “a life well lived.”
The remainder of the talk will continue in several posts in the days ahead.
I have had a blessed life. I am the beneficiary of my loving wife of 45 years. We now transition to our “next chapter” by having the gratification of watching our three children carefully, raise their families in the faith of our fathers. Not having spoiled our three, we can have the joy of spoiling our twelve grandchildren.
While I am well aware of these blessings, reading Sirach reminds me not to take so many friends for granted. Many of my friends have demonstrated the excellence of their moral character by contributing not only to our country but also by finding the time to support The Character Building Project.
Several of the “characters with character” profiled on Politics with Principle, have actively supported our mission to improve character in our country. Charlie Black when accepting a ”Lobbyists of the Year” award speaks of the virtue of humility. Bill Bulger counsels me what Dr. Johnson (“example is always more efficacious than precept”) might do and think. Paul Eckstein guides my reading lists while he shares with me the curriculum of the character course he teaches at ASU law School. Admiral Lynch is just as patriotic today as he was as the Superintendent of the Naval Academy. Tom is constantly mentoring our wounded warriors by guiding their transition to the civilian work force.
So many others have contributed to the growth of The Character Building Project; I cannot name them all in this post. However, I must acknowledge the good acts of my intellectual mentor, Dr. Paul Stoltz, the father of the Adversity Quotient. Paul prods me to “keep climbing” to better understand various forms of resilience which can occur in wounded warriors after surviving traumatic injuries. Former Member of Congress, Frank Riggs, who voluntarily followed his term limit pledge, has encouraged me to support character education in our charter schools.
Numerous new friends have appeared on my Facebook page and have otherwise expanded the reach of The Character Building Project. Thirty-eight have already written favorable reviews of Courage in America on Amazon.
I have a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation in finding a treasure in so many good pals. I am grateful having been touched by them so that we all can together follow the better angels of our nature.
Several of my Army buddies profiled in Courage in America or on The Character Building Project commented that I have given the USMC a good deal of coverage as to their character development programs. They suggest I point our readers to…
Everyone who becomes part of America’s Army, soldier or DA civilian, has character. On the day a person joins the Army, leaders begin building on that character. Army values emphasize the relationship between character and competence. Although competence is a fundamental attribute of Army leaders, character is even more critical.
Army leaders are responsible for refining the character of soldiers and DA civilians. How does the Army as an institution ensure proper character development? What should leaders do to inculcate Army values in their subordinates?
Leaders teach Army values to every new member of the Army. Together with the leader attributes Army values establish the foundation of leaders of character. Once members learn these values, their leaders ensure adherence. Adhering to the principles Army values embody is essential, for the Army cannot tolerate unethical behavior. Unethical behavior destroys morale and cohesion; it undermines the trust and confidence essential to teamwork and mission accomplishment.
Ethical conduct must reflect beliefs and convictions, not just fear of punishment. Over time, soldiers and DA civilians adhere to Army values because they want to live ethically and profess the values because they know it’s right to do so. Once people believe and demonstrate Army values, they are persons of character. Ultimately, Army leaders are charged with the essential role of developing character in others.
** Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Charlie Black is a good friend of The Character Building Project and one of the ten characters with character featured in Politics with Principle http://thecharacterbuildingproject.com/politics-with-principle/ten-interesting-characters/
This past week on the occasion of receiving the 2013 lobbyists of the year award from the Bryce Harlow Foundation, Charlie Black offered the following remarks…
Bryce Harlow said, “A Washington representative needs to recognize and accept the fact that whatever it is that he represents is much more important to the political animals in town than his own personality and atmospherics. A good politician looks right behind the beseecher. He wants to know, and is busy calculating as the representative makes his pitch, how the representatives company and its employees might help or hurt him in his never-ending fight for political survival.”
In other words, it’s not about you. It’s about your company, your industry, your client, the thousands of employees, potential employees and consumers you represent. Understate your role and lift up your client.
But, humility in all your professional dealings is more. It is treating everyone—Members, staff, and colleagues—with respect and kindness and listening with an open mind.
As good a trait as humility is, its opposite trait can ruin you. C.S. Lewis said, “There is one vice of which no one in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. There is no fault, which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault, which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. The vice I am taking about is Pride, or Self Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it is called humility.”
From time to time The Character Building Project acts as a “curator” of noteworthy articles. Today’s piece is courtesy of the Order of Malta.
Before his death in 1983 due to lymphoma, the saintly Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York, gave us an incredible insight into the beauty of suffering and death, when he wrote that human life, God’s precious gift, is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by sickness or suffering, disease or illness, hunger or poverty, mental or physical handicaps, loneliness or old age. Indeed, at these times, he wrote, life takes on extra splendor, as it reveals God’s power shining through our human weakness.
Yesterday’s post on The Character Building Project suggested some patriot or charitable organization might arrange for our wounded, warrior amputees to visit the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Our good pal, Tom Esslingen, Yale Lawyer, a Marine Viet Nam Combat veteran and head of the Marine Corp Association has shared with our readers, the story of Marines who triumphed over their combat injuries now bringing hope to the victims.
Thank you Tom and all you Marines for always being faithful to our country!
In thinking about the effects of the Boston Marathon Bombing I have asked myself: might something good come from the misfortune of the survivors? Why is it that most of the survivors will struggle to cope while a very few will thrive? How can we help this trauma for so many American become transformational?
Like other Americans, I am trying to turn my attention from the pessimism of the tragedy toward the optimism of those who choose not to be victims but use this trauma to transform their lives. I have come to know several warriors who managed to flourish after multiple amputations: brave men like Todd Nicely, Mark Holbert, Bobby Dove and other amputees who managed to thrive after experiencing traumatic combat injuries. These and other heroes who managed growth after adversity are profiled on The Character Building Project site.
It would be transformational for the survivors, if some well-connected reader might reach out to Bill O’Reilly and or other charitable patriots to fund a visit from the Todd, Mark and Bobby to meet with those about to go through the difficult rehabilitation and challenges that many of our wounded warriors have already met.