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With Hope and Virtue

Sitting beside a colleague in the sociology department at the University of Iowa, I watched President Obama’s inauguration on ABC NOW’s live streaming video. President Obama’s gift for oratory is incredible — and inspirational.

I was particularly interested in his discussion of virtues — a topic that I’m exploring for my book on American self-help and virtues. Outlining the economic and military challenges ahead for the United States, President Obama said:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

<snip>

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship … With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.

Here, here! But how do we get there?

Today is also the first day of my self-help class at the University of Iowa where my students and I will read the best (and worst) of self-help books with an eye on the how-to of these American core virtues. How do you teach hard work and honesty? How do you teach responsibility and self-control? And can these virtues be taught by self-help books?

Exciting new beginnings — and a treat to have the new President’s address be so on point!

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January 20, 2009 - Posted by | Academic Musings, Self-Help

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