Are the ethics of yesteryear relevant today? Was the so-called Greatest Generation blindly patriotic or courageously dedicated? Did Baby Boomers reject what America had become or question passionately what it might be? Do Generations X and Y even care? Have America's generations contributed differently to our moral fiber? If so, have there been, and are there, common threads?

America's founders appreciated and worried that democracy presupposes a higher degree of virtue. They knew, as their successors knew, and as we now know, that democracy's health hinges upon the civic virtue of each generation. From where, however, does our civic virtue arise? Perhaps such virtue arises most during our moments of public deliberation. If it does, how frequently do we engage one another in reasoned and reasonable public discourse -- during which we examine and discuss our common experiences, and do so among and across generations? How reliably do we foster preparation for and participation in that discourse? How often do we ask ourselves who benefits from politics without principle, commerce without morality, or education without character? And do we ever honestly ask, "Is ours a community of character?"

The Content of Our Character Project ("CoC") is a nationwide initiative designed to facilitate substantive, public deliberation about ethics and leadership. Responding in part to public cynicism that Generation X could not rise above its own apathy, CoC originally brought together a group of young Americans in August 1998 to deliberate about the moral challenges facing American democracy. We gathered to share ideals and develop a vision for ethical leadership. Collectively, we outlined guiding principles and celebrated exemplars in politics, markets, civil society, and community life. Our published document, Voices of Generation X, invited all Americans, especially young Americans, to reflect upon, deliberate about, and contribute to our common future. More than 5000 copies of Voices of Generation X were distributed to students, volunteers, and civic leaders. Tens of thousands visited CoC on-line. And during 1999 and 2000, several thousand attended events in Boston, Kansas City, Silicon Valley, New York City, Virginia, Indianapolis, Raleigh-Durham, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

Housed at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, sustained by organizational partnerships nationwide, and encouraged by three years of successful programming, CoC now stands to realize even greater opportunities to affirm, cultivate, and inspire ethical practices by launching a second round of conversations. From September 2001 through April 2002, CoC will continue its national discourse by hosting eight community forums: Pittsburgh (September); Washington, DC (October); Boston (November); Atlanta (December); Seattle (January); Phoenix (February); San Francisco (March); and Indianapolis (April). In May 2002, CoC will coordinate meetings in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia. And then in June 2002, CoC will co-host a national conference, conducted as a series of town meetings led by and involving different generational groups. By the close of 2002, CoC will distribute a publication celebrating exemplars of vision, justice, and generosity. A recently published book describes "tipping points" as marked by contagiousness and dramatic moments and affirms that little causes can lead to big effects. CoC is one such little cause aiming to reach that tipping point where public deliberation about community ethics and leadership simply, and meaningfully, takes place. Our original and continuing mission remains—we endeavor to spark and enhance spirited dialogue about the fiber of our common good. Come lend your voice to the conversation.

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Originally published in The KIE Connection (Fall 2001). Appears with permission of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University.