Character Counts! founder teaches ethics

May 03, 2007|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

HAGERSTOWN - When Michael Josephson created Character Counts! 15 years ago, he never dreamed it would change so many lives in so little time.

"Part of me hoped it would have this kind of success," he said. "When I realized it had, I thought, 'Wow, it really happened.'"

Many communities and schools have implemented the program in their area and connected to a coalition that reaches about 6 million people.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Character Counts! Coalition of Washington County brought Josephson to Hagers- town to teach ethics in the workplace.


Josephson said the program - one of many offered by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics - is deeply connected to the "six pillars of character" that form the foundation of Character Counts!.

To explain the program taught in Hagerstown this week, titled "Living Up to the Public Trust - Ethics in the Workplace," Josephson started at the very beginning of the institute.

In the 1980s, Josephson said he noticed his view on ethics was changing. A law professor who thrived on reason and cost/benefit analysis, he suddenly found himself a father seeking not what was reasonable, but what was right, responsible and fair.

Turning to a body of ethical writings that included Aristotle, St. Augustine and the Boy Scouts, Josephson said the institute sought the common values woven through human history.

"If you could interview the people who would date or marry your children, what would you want to know?" he asked hypothetically.

Out of the research, he said six values emerged that spanned political and religious lines.

"Trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship," he said. "You may have seen them on a city bus or in a school."

Those same six words, which hang from banners in places like the Greencastle-Antrim School District in Greencastle, Pa., were heard by dozens of local professionals at the seminar this week.

"It is important that we make these part of our daily communication," coalition member Cort Meinelschmidt said of the pillars.

"We are making a subliminal message in this community," said Carolyn Brooks, founder and chairperson of Character Counts! Coalition of Washington County. "We are saying, 'Its here, let's talk about it.'"

While Washington County has only recently adopted the program, Josephson said he has hopes for its future in the area.

"Not everyone will have a Character Counts! program, but if we can inspire any kind of ethics program, we have been successful," Josephson said.

Brooks said every school in Washington County currently has a volunteer-based version of Character Counts!.

Anyone interested in contacting the coalition can e-mail Brooks at

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