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Using Strengths for All

By Ruth Pearce

"Other People Matter"

Jo works in education in the U.K. Her signature character strengths are Fairness, Humor, Judgment, Social Intelligence and Prudence. Her lesser strengths – on a typical day – are Gratitude, Hope, Spirituality, Appreciation and Self-Regulation.

As schools close their doors during this crisis, and families face the challenge of being at home, reduced income and still giving their children an education, she and her colleagues are working tirelessly to create a consistent learning environment.

When asked how things are going, she said, “I have never worked as hard in my life!” Between work commitments, juggling a family of six people stuck in the house, managing updates, checking in on family and friends, it is a whirlwind of calls, texts, emails … So, I asked her how strengths help:

  1. TEAMWORK & GRATITUDE: “The family has realized that we are in this together. It is not perfect, and we have our moments of frustration, but for the most part everyone is focused on doing their part to make all of this work. I am so grateful that we are being mutually supportive – at home and at work – and that everyone has a “can do” attitude.”

  2. SELF-REGULATION: “We are keeping to a regular schedule, getting up at the normal time, dressing for school and work as usual – YES that means wearing school uniform. There is so much chaos and confusion and it is easy to be swept along in “what ifs” and catastrophic thinking. I keep asking the question, “What is one thing we can do now?” This helps me and my family stay focused on what is possible, and what is happening in this moment and not to dwell too much on what might – or might not - be coming next.”

  3. LEADERSHIP and PERSPECTIVE: “the decisions I am making at home and at work have an impact on many people. My concern is not just for family and friends. I am concerned about the students from my schools, their families and their friends. I am privileged to be able to do more than most to make this process less bewildering and more manageable than it would otherwise be.”

  4. PRUDENCE & CURIOSITY: “We have a plan that guides us day-to-day and we make any adjustments as needed. Noone has all the answers in this situation, so we learn as we go and look to each other for ideas and suggestions. There are lots of questions such as “how else might we do this?” and “What do we need in this moment?” and “What is one step we can take that will make things a little better right now?” So far, we have set up an obstacle course in the living room to make sure we all get exercise – we time each other. We are holding a competition to see who can make dinner out of the most unlikely ingredients. We even played hide and seek – something we have not done since the kids were small!

  5. PRUDENCE II: I have also realized how important it is that I plan time for me to read, crochet and exercise (even when I don’t feel like it!) Without taking care of myself, I cannot help anyone else.

  6. SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE, FAIRNESS, HONESTY and KINDNESS: “I speak to each of my team every day for a few minutes, and I make sure that each of our children has alone time with us so they can express their concerns and fears. It gets tiring sometimes and at the same time focusing on others is helping me to feel more hopeful and helpful! Honesty and consistency are the key to getting through this. There is no point in pretending that it is all sunshine and roses and by the same token it does not help to sit and wring our hands. One surprise has been that people who are often anxious about small things are suddenly handling a real crisis brilliantly!”

  7. HOPE and LOVE: “As I watch my team and my family come together to make it through this challenging time I am filled with HOPE, and LOVE. The creativity of the people around me makes me appreciate them so much, the perseverance of everyone is inspiring, the way people are pulling together for the greater good is uplifting, and I am energized by being able to help others who matter to me.”

  8. HUMOR: “When all else fails, humor and play are big ones for us. As Viktor Frankl said, “I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable.”

Of the first three strengths Jo named, two were lesser strengths for her. We may believe that our lesser strengths are inaccessible or absent. Tips for coping:

  1. All strengths count – even lesser strengths.
  2. Mindful strengths use brings out our best.
  3. Using our signature strengths to bolster our lesser strengths helps us to maintain energy.