Character and the Moral Self in Barack Obama’s Memoir, Dreams from My Father

  •  Ernest Washington    
  •  Elham Zandvakili    
  •  Edmund Gordon    


Barack Obama is the subject and his memoir is the content for this essay on character and the moral self. These last two themes are applied to the development of Barack Obama’s character traits of love and caring, temperance, courage, love of learning, justice, and spirituality. Each character trait is valued, practiced worldwide and praised in children and adults. This analysis answers a question that has eluded scholars and political pundits. How was it possible for Barack Obama to understand that whites would vote for him to become president of the United States? The answer is hidden in plain view in the development of his character and moral self. This essay provides insights into how his character prepared him to become President of the United States.

A practical model of character development is an important aim of this essay. Character is habits of mind and body that persist over time.  The development of the moral self is a frame for understanding the role of emotions and cognition in the cultivation of habits of mind. Understanding the character of Barack Obama is only partial vindication of a model of the development of character. A supremely talented Barack Obama makes any model look good. The test of the usefulness and validity of the model is that it provokes the reader to think about children, especially African-American children in all of their uniqueness and universality. A conversation that begins with the habits of love and caring, temperance, courage, love of learning, justice, and spirituality is a good beginning toward that end.

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