The Character Movement

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.

An educational leader was sharing with me that the teachers she leads are not able to keep up. The challenges of fulfilling their personal and professional responsibilities at the same time and in the same place (their homes) are too great. Teaching in good times is difficult. Teaching in these times can feel nearly impossible. She encouraged her teachers to be compassionate with themselves. She told them that rather than focus on all the best instructional practices and latest pedagogy for student learning, they simply needed to provide adequate online classroom instruction with the resources available from now until the end of the school year. That is enough.

Compassion during these times for oneself and others is not just a good idea or something nice to do, but as the Dalai Lama reminds us – it’s a necessity. In order to emerge from this pandemic with our humanity intact, we must each embody this virtue.

As much as we would like to think otherwise, no one is operating at their best within the parameters of this pandemic. As the leader of Youth Frontiers, I have always set a high bar of excellence for myself and for my staff. But leading today is different. I said to my co-workers this week, “On good days, we’ll probably operate at 70 percent and on bad days — 40 percent. No need to go over the top, but try not to go below 40.” If I am honest with myself, I know that I am operating at a less than ideal level. I need to show grace and compassion to myself — and to those I lead.

During this time – with all the chaos and constantly changing conditions – whether we are parenting, teaching, volunteering or leading teams at work, we need to lower our expectations and shoot for good, not perfect.

This week’s challenge: Show yourself and those around you compassion. Instead of a 100 percent performance rating, allow yourself and others the grace to hit 70 percent.

How we respond during this time will define us as individuals, a community, and a nation.

Let us choose to be people of character.


Joe Cavanaugh
Founder & CEO
Youth Frontiers

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