Youth Frontiers

What the Dalai Lama can teach us about character.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” – The Dalai Lama

I was recently speaking to a friend who was sharing with me in a moment of vulnerability that he just can’t do it all. He feels he is “failing at everything right now” — being a dad, husband, employee, etc. He is not doing anything well — or at least at the level he expects of himself.

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What Steven Covey can teach us about character.

“Begin with the end in mind.”– Steven Covey

My 19-year old niece, Victoria, adopted from Russia at age 7, loves to watch the show CSI. She wants to work in criminal justice someday. She is currently in the law enforcement track at Normandale College and hopes that one day she will wear the uniform of a law enforcement agent.

Steven Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, describes people like Victoria who set a goal and do the necessary things to get there. His Habit Twobegin with the end in mind – describes the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you want to be and what you want, then you let other people and circumstances shape your life by default.
This idea – begin with the end in mind – can be applied to our current situation as we shelter in place during the pandemic. It forces us to take a different perspective.

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What Bob Marley can teach us about character.

“Don’t worry about a thing … cause every little thing is gonna be alright.” — Bob Marley

I remember the day, nine years ago, we took my father, who had struggled for three years with Alzheimers, for a short-term stay at the hospital. His care had grown beyond the scope of my 78-year-old mother. This change put my family in high-stress mode and there was much to worry about.

During admittance, the nurse asked my father the standard question, “Is there anything dangerous in your house?” Without missing a beat, my father answered, “Yes. My wife’s cooking.” My dad, sensing the gravity of the situation, never lost his sense of humor. He looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, Joe. Everything will be alright.”

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What Pablo Picasso can teach us about character.

“When I don’t have red, I use blue.” — Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was a painter, sculptor, designer and the founder of Cubism. His lasting influence on modern art is indisputable. His famous Blue Period lasted from 1901-1904 and is characterized by a monochromatic color scheme saturated with blue tones. Here is his most famous work during his Blue Period: The Old Guitarist.

At first, these somber, depressing paintings of cabaret performers, beggars, and frail, old people were not well-received by critics or the public. But Picasso didn’t give up. He had the last laugh. The Old Guitarist is now worth $100 million.

B.Q. (Before Quarantine), one of my favorite ways I “painted with red” as the YF culture leader was to walk around our office and pop into people’s workspaces and chat. This in-person connection gave me energy, fuel and meaning. It also helped humanize our company culture. That red paint is no longer available. Working from home now, I need to “paint with blue” to connect with staff in virtual ways via zoom meetings, phone calls and brief, affirmational texts.

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What Margaret Wheatley can teach us about character.

“We need a worldview to navigate this chaotic time. We cannot hope to make sense using our old maps.” — Margaret Wheatley, American writer

Hanging in my living room is a beautiful tapestry of a medieval world map. I like its muted colors, Latin script, and fine details, but its depiction of world geography is all wrong. Some continents are the wrong shape and some oceans are too small. If we used this map today to circumnavigate the world, we’d shipwreck many times over and never get to where we need to go.

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What Viktor Frankl can teach us about character.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

Youth Frontiers’ mission around character and community is as important as ever. Maybe even more so … As our typical daily life is being upended, and our way of being in community is changed, we have the opportunity — and the moral obligation — to show young people the importance of rising up to embrace character. We must show our children what is noble, what is good, what living with character looks like in times of difficulty and suffering. This is not only good for our larger community; it is also good for our children’s sense of well-being.

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What Mr. Rogers can teach us about character.

“There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” — Fred Rogers

In this time of social distancing, it can be tempting to forget about the concerns of others and focus instead on self-preservation. Many of us are trying to regain our sense of security by shoring up all of our resources — money, food, supplies, attention … even as our patience for loved ones in close quarters may be running out. This is an understandable response, yet it is a poor way to live. If left unchecked, we’re in danger of becoming a mean and miserly people.

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What Charles Dickens Can Teach us About Character

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness … It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens understood the complexities of life and the character that surfaces during times of adversity as described in his classic, “A Tale of Two Cities.” Great stress reveals the best and the worst of our humanity; it exposes our innate fears and challenges the resilience of our hope.

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I remember a student named Anthony

At Youth Frontiers, it’s our mission to positively impact school communities through our retreats. One of the more wonderful parts of our job is that the same students we reach often impact us in turn. For our staff, these students and their stories are unforgettable. In this series, we remember them.


This year, on The Character Movement, we are trying something new. We’ll be delving into one of our retreat values each month, examining it on our blog and in our Character Challenges. This month’s theme is honor.

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Photo by Rory Björkman on Unsplash

Analogy of the Fog

I have always been fascinated by Ben Franklin. In his book, “The Autobiography of Ben Franklin,” he shares the story of the “Analogy of the Fog.” Franklin asks us to picture ourselves walking down a road on a foggy night. The people we see on the road far ahead of us and far behind us are wrapped in fog. But near us — no fog; all is clear, or so it seems … In Franklin’s own words, “though in truth, we are as much in the fog as any of them.”READ MORE

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