Keeping Chris Peterson in the present tense

The field of positive psychology lost a great friend and contributor today: Dr. Chris Peterson (1950-2012).

RIP CP.
And thank you.

You may know Dr. Peterson as the guy who researched the VIA: the character strengths inventory we use often in SOMO Leadership Labs. (We’re also using his book in SOMO 300!) He put a lot of work into this tool, combing the world’s many moral texts for a ubiquitous classification of strengths and virtues.

I know him as Chris, one of my professors in grad school. What an amazing teacher: humorous, zestful (in his own way) and wise – very wise. I just found this paper I wrote for his class in 2008. The assignment was to watch The Wizard of Oz and write a paper on what it says of character and strengths. I took it as an opportunity to explore the concept I had just begun writing about, now my life’s work. Wowza! To go back to that time when SOMO was called just Emotional Leadership (and I was a fan of copyrighting it as you’ll see!) He helped formulate my ideas.

Out of the classroom, Chris was an interesting bird. I’d often find him with a glass of wine in one hand and cigarette in the other. And then another cigarette almost before the first one was out. My most favorite Petersonism is: “When we know what we do, why do we live as we do?” That is, he (we) know drinking and smoking or _____ (fill in the blank here with your demons) are not good for us — so why do we continue engaging in _________? #Hm

(The initial conversations I would have with him in 2007 predated my familiarity with the field of neuroscience, where I began to understand just how automatic our thoughts and thus behaviors are.)

The last time I saw Chris was at George Mason University this past April. He and his colleague Nansook Park were keynotes at our annual Leadership + Well-Being Conference. They spoke on resilience, which they so aptly defined as “Struggling well.” I love thinking about resilience this way.

In fact, I love the way Chris Peterson thinks. I’ll keep this in the present tense because I know this man’s legacy will live. I know it will in me. I find it so synchronistic that just last week he published a blog to Psychology Today on awe, life, death, and legacy. (Check it out here. You’ll be happy you did. He’s the guy who sums up the entire field of positive psychology into three words: “Other people matter.” )

The last time I saw Chris was at the bar at Mason Inn on George Mason’s Campus. (I’m a Fellow in the Center for Consciousness & Transformation here–at the University, not the bar–and SOMO is a project of the Center.) I had such a nice interaction with him that moment. He looked me in the eyes, cocked his head, and said “You’re doing amazing work, Louis. Keep it up. You’re helping people improve their lives and that’s the most important part.”

I was so honored to be seen by him, so humble and wise. He made me matter. I think about the sincerity of that moment with Chris when I get stressed or burnt out. It helps bring me back to his notions of resilience, strength, and character — all of which, like him, are timeless.

Thanks for being my friend on the other side now, Chris. I love and appreciate you.

 

This entry was posted in Character Strength, Glimpse into Me, Meaning, Moments that matter, neuroscience, Relationships, Social-Emotional Leadership, SOMO Leadership, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Keeping Chris Peterson in the present tense

  1. Irene says:

    Louis,
    Thank you for this. I am new to PP, but the point at which I discovered the field has now become a watershed moment for me. It will change the course of my life’s work.

    I hadn’t even heard of Chris Peterson a mere several months ago, but it didn’t take long to recognize the vast and important contribution he has made to the world of PP… Your beautiful blog has made him more real and human to someone like me, who will only ever know of his greatness by virtue of second- and third-hand experiences with him… Reading your post, I feel an even more profound loss. Thank you for sharing such treasured memories.

  2. Judy Krings says:

    Poignant, real, and you made me feel as if I were there with you, Louis. Chris is right. You ARE doing incredible work, and I love you for the generous, spirited, and kindly loving man you are.

    Like you, I scarfed up Chris’ incredible blogs. I was so lucky to take his classes at Mentor Coach and to meet him in Sedona, AZ. What a gem.

    We will all keep his legacy alive. I am so grateful you wrote him such a stellar tribute, Louie.

  3. Thank you Louis for spreading the “be seen” experience and behavior to the people.

  4. Julia says:

    Your words are beautiful Louis! He will live on in you and all the lives he touched. From the sound of it he touched many people’s lives and still is….What a beautiful legacy to pass on to the world.

  5. Louis,

    Thanks for a great piece. I’m glad that Chris commented on the great work you are doing. He is a rare bird, one who sees other people like that. May we all take a page from his playbook.

  6. If anyone reading this is interested, some students are starting a scholarship in honor of Dr. Chris Peterson…the big hearted prof. who made every student feel like they mattered. It seems fitting that the professor whom his colleagues referred to as “Mother Theresa” would have something that lives on after him to mirror his own generosity.

    You can make contributions online:

    http://mappalum.org/Donation

    mention Chris in the “in Honor of” section.

  7. Dorcus Johnson says:

    Great SOMO 300’ing Boo and all participants!! Enjoy!!

  8. Pingback: Chris Peterson – missing you | LVS Consulting

  9. Paul says:

    As a student currently enrolled in Dr. Chris Peterson’s class this semester, thank you for posting this. I took the Positive Psychology class because of the person that Chris is. His legacy will continue to teach and continue to inspire.

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