Today marks the first annual worldwide Character Day — 24 hours of live events and online conversations highlighting the growth in scientific research on character development. This research shows that character strengths such as optimism, bravery, and leadership are not just innate traits but something we can all develop in ourselves.
A cornerstone of today’s celebrations is the premier of Henry Crown Fellow, filmmaker, and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain’s new film “The Science of Character,” which is being screened by more than 1,500 schools, organizations, museums, and companies in 40 countries, and supplemented by teacher’s resources, apps, and games, funded in part by the Bezos Family Foundation. The nascent movement and film are the latest products of Shlain’s fellowship project, “Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change,” which leverages technology to make collaborative films that help social change movements communicate their work.
We caught up with Tiffany this week to hear more about the film and how her experience as a Henry Crown Fellow has inspired projects like her latest film.
Aspen Idea: How did your experience as a Henry Crown Fellow impact the way you lead?
Tiffany Shlain: The Henry Crown Fellowship was a transformational experience for me. It was a real gift to be able to re-read some of the greatest thinkers of our civilization as an adult and grapple with them. Since I began the fellowship seven years ago, almost all of my films have dealt with concepts raised directly in our seminars. This film, the “Science of Character,” is perhaps the most directly inspired by my fellowship yet, in terms of the content.
AI: Tell me about your fellowship project, “Let it Ripple,” and how it connects with your latest film.
TS: Like many Fellows, my project has really morphed and grown. I am constantly asking myself, ‘how can I make a bigger impact?’ “Let It Ripple” started as a short film series designed to provide inspiring and impactful films. We got a grant to further this work and now provide free customized films to nonprofits and schools around the world. The scale of what we have been able to achieve has surpassed my expectations. With the “Science of Character,” our goal was to partner with 250 organizations to screen the film and we are already at 1,500. Partners like the US State Department, the Bezos Family Foundation, and Common Sense Media, among others, have been critical in spreading the word. The next film in this series is going to build on this; it’s called the “21st Century Brain” and is all about what skills you need to flourish in the 21st century. More on that soon.
AI: Tell me more about Character Day and how the film “The Science of Character” fits in with promoting it.
TS: This is a day where people all over the world are going to focus on what character means, ideas around what character means using neuroscience and social science — this will include old ideas as well as some really exciting new research. We are really trying to highlight the importance of character, both in thinking about it and in working on your own character.
AI: The film asks everyone to think about the character traits that are most important to them. What three character traits do you personally find most important in people that you are around?
TS: For me, they are curiosity, bravery, and gratitude.
AI: The film asks everyone to answer the question, “I want to be_____.” Tiffany, what is your answer?
TS: I want to be brave. I think courage is a muscle you constantly have to exercise. On a personal level, I’ve encountered many moments where I have needed to be brave. On a professional level, I am constantly trying to take risks which require bravery. I just hope to continue to strengthen my bravery.
To learn more about Character Day visit http://letitripple.org, where you can screen the film, use the discussion tools, and join the global Q&A. Join the conversation online using the Twitter hashtag #CharacterDay.