September 26, 2019 by

It’s in the air.
You can feel it.
Fall is upon us.

The temperature has cooled down.
Sunsets are golden.
The last blast of summer, with hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, was the Labor Day weekend.And with the end of summer, our kids have gone back to school.

Then the first schools were founded in the United States, the concern was moral as well as intellectual. The idea was to teach children reading, writing, and arithmetic; and how to participate in society, to develop a sense of civic responsibility, and to learn the virtues of respect and hard work. How are we teaching these moral values today?

Good elementary schools still teach values. After-school programs like Boys & Girls Clubs, 4-H, and Girls Scouts—to name a few—are teaching character. Middle schools, high schools, and colleges are promoting community service. And in the work-a-day world, professional associations and organizations expect adherence to codes of ethics and ethical business practices.

One of the best ways to learn character and values is by watching others. When we are in the presence of people who take ethics seriously, and act with grace and determination, we have a good chance of acting this way. In The Book of Virtues, edited by William Bennett, former Secretary of Education and the first Business Ethics Alliance Beacon of Ethics Awardee, Bennett writes about the need to promote moral literacy in our youth and in ourselves.

The Book of Virtues is delightful, filled with great stories, poems, and essays that “preserve the principles, the ideals, and the notions of goodness and greatness we hold dear.” It preserves these by providing a short list of the moral virtues that hold our society together, helping the reader “identify the forms and content of those traits…to enable them to make sense of what they see in life, and, we may hope, help them live it well.”

Bennett continues to write, “We must not permit our disputes over thorny political questions to obscure the obligation we have to offer instruction…in the area in which we have, as a society, reached a consensus: namely, on the importance of good character, and on some of its
pervasive particulars.”

What are these particulars? You won’t be surprised that they include self-discipline, compassion, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, and others. Since we, at the Business Ethics Alliance, have been working all year on the concept of trust, the stories about responsibility, honesty, and loyalty have really resonated with me because these virtues create trust.

Whether you are a little kid trying to find a good book, a college student learning about great stories, or a professional who is seeking a way to ground yourself as you serve your clients or your community, it is worth picking up the Book of Virtues. None of us can ever be too smart, too professional, or too old to go “back to school.”


This column was printed in the October 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Beverly Kracher

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.