The "Blessed Unrest:" The Faces of America

Have you been experiencing the challenge of change?  In the last posts we referred to it as, “The Blessed Unrest.”   Paul Hawken uses this word to describe the actions of millions of people who are creating a better world.  Concerned and aware, these individuals are acting independently, following no centralized set of beliefs, leadership, or organization. Their impact has been largely hidden, yet it is becoming a significant source of change.

Actually, the “Blessed Unrest” is not new.  It is at the foundation of our country and is the basis for our expansion and growth. Faces of America One way to appreciate the “Blessed Unrest” is to look at history.  When we understand our history, we better understand ourselves.   PBS has been showing a series called “Faces of America,” developed  by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.  

In this series, Dr. Gates explores the ancestry of twelve celebrities to help us better understand our roots. Why examine your history? First, America is largely a melting pot.  Coming to the United States as immigrants, many of us have lost touch with our roots. When we get in touch with our roots, we see ourselves as more connected, not only with our ancestors, but also globally. It helps us to find our place, to better understand the impact of world events, and our purpose today. 

Second, history, unexamined, repeats itself.  By understanding our past, and the factors that influenced it, we can choose to create a new path.  We can look at our lives and create a new story. Our ancestors left their familiar homeland to build a new life in a foreign land.  Why?  Religious oppression, poverty, hardship, and war were a few of the reasons.  American brought hope for a new life, equality, freedom, and a place to express their dreams.  Their unrest led to the development of their strengths of character. For example,  when we celebrated the birthdays of two presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,  we honor their character strengths.  

In celebrating these holidays we honor the strengths of leadership, courage, and justice. These virtues continue to inspire our activities today. The Connection of Strengths As I watched the PBS series, I could not help but see how character strengths connected the family members across the generations. 

Chef Mario Batali described his Italian mother who made exquisite ravioli of calves brains, sausage, and Swiss chard. Not quite my taste, but certainly gave the inspiration for a great chef.  Yo-Yo Ma, a cellist, described the passion of his father, a violinist. All are connected through the character strength of an appreciation of beauty and excellence.  They honored their parents through the generations by honoring this strength.

Giving and sharing their passions and strengths helped them reach new levels of success. Now, think about your own ancestors, what strengths did they exhibit?  You can continue to be actively connected with them by honoring their strengths?  Not sure of your strengths?  Take the brief strengths test or the Values in Action Strengths Survey at the authentic happiness website.  It will help you identify the character strengths you use most frequently.

 As you watch these historical series and reflect on your own roots, there is a bittersweet element to it.  While it is incredibly moving to get in touch with our past, it also has a sad undertone that reminds us of our limited time on this planet.  We can also see the hard work put in by our ancestors, and the pain and difficulty in their lives, the fruits of their work in our lives that they did not get to enjoy. By contrast, if when you look at history with an appreciation of strengths and contributions of our ancestors, the picture becomes different. 

Our awareness of universal character strengths and virtues has helped us to move beyond the limitations of place and time to see our history from the perspective of the evolution of mankind.  You can see the patterns of pain and stress, the times of “Blessed Unrest,” and how new solutions evolved to promote the well being of all.  We all have some aspects of these strengths, so everyone gets to contribute. 

What I find is most fascinating is that the actions everyone are significant. Take a moment to get in touch with your passions.  Do they reflect a deeper, more universal strength? Did you see them expressed in your family?  How did these strengths help your family overcome their challenges in life?  Can you honor them by using them in your life?  These strengths bless our unrest. Through these strengths we can contribute to a better world in a way that goes beyond place and time. 

Warm Regards,

Dr. Alice

Resources: Hawken, Paul.  The Blessed Unrest. NY: Penguin, 2007

Peterson, C. &  Seligman, M. Character Strengths and Virtues:  A Handbook and Classification. New York: Oxford Press, 2004.