The Aspen Summit

Published: February 17, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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In 1992, Michael Josephson called together leaders from a variety of groups and backgrounds to meet for a special conference in Aspen, Colorado.  Their common denominator: all had a commitment to character education.  Their goal:  to devise a set ethical values that they would all agree on and would, along with The Josephson Institute promote.

The conference produced The Aspen Declaration:

1. The next generation will be the stewards of our communities, nation, and planet in extraordinarily critical times.

2. In such times, the well-being of our society requires an involved, caring citizenry with good moral character.

3. People do not automatically develop good moral character; therefore, conscientious efforts must be made to instruct young people in the values and abilities necessary for moral decision making and conduct.

4. Effective character education is based on core ethical values rooted in democratic society; in particular, trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, caring, fairness and justice, and civic virtue and citizenship.

5. These core ethical values transcend cultural, religious, and socioeconomic differences.

6. Character education is, first and foremost, an obligation of families and faith communities, but schools and youth-service organizations also have responsibility to help develop the character of young people.

7. These responsibilities are best achieved when these groups work in concert.

8. The character and conduct of our youth reflect the character and conduct of society; therefore, every adult has the responsibility to teach and model the core ethical values and every social institution has the responsibility to promote the development of good character.

In 1995, I received a certificate of completion from The Josephson Institute’s initial program, The Ethics Corps.Eventually, the Corps gave way to Character Counts! – a national program designed to bring the agreed upon set of tools of character education to schools and communities across the country.

What began as research for my first book, The Lone Ranger’s Code of the West – An Action-Packed Adventure in Values and Ethics, became the beginning of a new career – writing and speaking on ethics to corporations, associations, schools and conferences around the country.

During my training, Michael would ask, “What are you going to do with all this material I’m giving you?”

“I’ll be using it to write this book about the Lone Ranger and ethics.  It’s based on a talk I wrote for a motivational speaker,” I said.

“That’s great,” he said. “What else are you going to do with it?’

I really couldn’t come up with a clear cut answer beyond the book.

Josephson just smiled and added, “I’m giving you a lot of material here.  I’d like you to think about teaching others.”

I looked around at the others in my group who were enjoying a lunch break.  There were about twelve of us.

“Ah, oh,” I thought.  No way.  I am NOT becoming one of the twelve apostles to a new church of ethics.

Fifteen years and umpteen talks later, I find myself as writer, speaker and acolyte in the order of ethics.

But I was never prepared for how it would change my life.


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