Responsibility & Character Development — A checklist for the kids (as well as for myself!)


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I can’t control “the world” (no one can), but I can control (or at least really really really try to control and influence) how I show up to it; and I can certainly strongly influence how the three little ones living here with me show up to it as well.

So much of parenting (and even teaching) is focusing on the character-development of the children you are entrusted with. And when you begin finally parenting yourself, a large part of that means focusing on your own character development—the type of person you are, your sense of right and wrong, your capacity to give and honor / keep your word, your moral courage, your level of integrity, how responsible you are.

Character development does not happen on its own, unless a person is born with an innate strong sense of right and wrong.

Most of us aren’t; so our moral development—as well as our character development and integrity—are all up for grabs. If we are graced / gifted with a good strong caring (and moral) influence (or a few of these), then our character and our conscience can be influenced in a certain (positive) direction. (So much of what Jesus said and spoke about in the Gospels is designed to influence the conscience and character of the person reading / hearing his words.)

On the other hand, if while growing up we do not have the good fortune of having any positive role models around us—any teachers, coaches, parents, mentors, aunts or uncles who are wise and caring and responsible—then we are apt to be swayed in a more apathetic or even negative direction by the influence of all of the forces around us—TV, radio, Internet, video games, pop culture, socialization and contact with other children whose character-development and conscience are being neglected or left to the haphazard influence of happenstance.

The reality is we live in a world of more and more sham relationships—relationships of convenience, of only superficial loyalty and fleeting committedness. Promises and commitments are easily broken and revised. People break their word with greater and greater appalling ease—and with either little to no thought of how it affects others, or with utterly no concern—with callous indifference—as to how it affects others.

And much of this is because we live in a world where moral education and character development are sorely lacking. People want to have fun. They want to be comfortable, to enjoy life, consume, be happy, “have it all,” live the dream, gain attention, fall in love, have sex, eat cheeseburgers, read gossip magazines, go on adventures, take lavish vacations. But pay attention to the nuts and bolts stuff? No. It’s not fun—character development, informing our conscience, isn’t fun. It’s work. It takes effort, attention, focus; it requires critical thinking; it requires looking honestly at oneself and at life and willingly and continuously examining both; and above all, it takes real goodness; it takes giving a damn. And all of these things cost. It’s easier to go through life with a glib and unfocused and often closed-mind, in self-chosen ignorance, and pay the price for this (—because it’s basically the same price that everyone else is paying, because almost everyone else is going through life in this same way—on auto-pilot, half-heartedly, with minds riddled with unawareness, prejudice, bias, half-truths, propaganda, nonsense, illusions, self-deception), than it is to live with heart and mind wide open, to think critically, to care deeply, to try to be of some genuine benefit to self and others.

But that’s what character development is all about—trying to combat this tendency toward decline and laziness and self-indulgence and apathy and not thinking (thoughtlessness) in each of us.

Character is who you are when you think no one is watching.

Our character shows in how we treat those who can do little or nothing for us.

Our character shows in how we treat the “little people.”

When we have good character, there are no little or unimportant people.

Character is doing what’s right when no one’s looking.

Character and conscience are closely related. Our conscience is comprised of our higher values—the better angels of our nature; our character shows in how we actualize these values and principles.

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” – James D. Miles

Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” – Theodore Roosevelt

The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops – no, but the kind of man the country turns out.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. . . Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.” – Abigail van Buren (Pauline Esther Friedman)

Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses and avoids.” – Aristotle

Every man has three characters: that which he shows, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has.” – Alphonse Karr

If we want our children to possess the traits of character we most admire, we need to teach them what those traits are and why they deserve both admiration and allegiance. Children must learn to identify the forms and content of those traits.” – William J. Bennett

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

Happiness is not the end of life: character is.” – Henry Ward Beecher

The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born.” – William R. Inge

So much of what constitutes developing character revolves around (and hinges on) the concept of *responsibility*.

(*Much of what follows has been adapted and elaborated on from http://www.k12.hi.us/~mkunimit/responsibility.htm*)

*CHARACTER VALUES*

Respect
RESPONSIBILITY
Compassion
Sharing
Perseverance
Friendship
Cooperation
Fairness
Caring
Citizenship
Self-discipline
Honesty/Trustworthiness

Responsibility – In short, being RESPONSIBLE means others can trust you to do things with care and excellence. You accept accountability for your actions. When you give your word, you follow through. When you make a mistake, you offer amends instead of excuses. Responsibility is the ability to respond appropriately, ably, and justly; to make smart choices; to honor your commitments, your word, your obligations. Responsibility means that you take good and proper care of yourself, and your relationships, personal property, and anything that has been entrusted to you; that tidy up after yourself; that you leave things as good as if not better than how you found them; and that is you make a mess or if you mess up, you own the mistake, clean it up, make up for it, and take steps with yourself to ensure that it does not happen again.

THE MEANING OF RESPONSIBILITY

Responsibility is taking care of your duties.
Responsibility is honoring your word.
Responsibility is answering for your actions.
Responsibility is accountability.
Responsibility is treating others as you would want to be treated
Responsibility means understanding the impact of your actions (or inaction) on others
Responsibility leads to trustworthiness.

WHY BEING RESPONSIBLE IS IMPORTANT

Responsibility is a core value for living honorably.
Responsibility is essential to good character development.
Responsibility is being accountable for your behavior.
Responsibility is being dependable when you have things to do.
Responsibility is keeping your commitments

EXAMPLES OF RESPONSIBILITY

You complete your chores at home without being constantly reminded.
You take good care of your personal possessions.
You come home on time.
You call your parents if you are late.
You eat healthy food, get plenty of exercise, and take good care of yourself.
You take care of your lunch money and don’t lose it on the playground.
You keep a promise.
You put part of your allowance into a savings account instead of spending it all.
You complete your school assignments on time and to the best of your ability.
You take care of your pet and spend time with your pets.
You return library books on time.

RESPONSIBLE CHILDREN

Understand and accept consequences for their actions and try to correct their mistake
Complete assignments and tasks
Clean up after themselves
Do the “right thing” and apologize sincerely if wrong
Help others in need
Follow through without giving up
Understand the effect they have on others

STEPS TO MAKING RESPONSIBLE DECISIONS

Define your goal. What do you want?
Explore all the choices and options.
Gather information and facts.
Write down arguments for and against each choice.
Take time to think through the consequences of each choice.
Make the decision.
Honor your word and keep your commitment

PUT RESPONSIBILITY INTO ACTION

Clean your room without being asked.
Throw away your trash and pick up some litter.
Practice self-control when you feel angry.
Clean up your area after lunch and encourage your friends to do the same.
Follow through on all assignments at school and chores at home.
Do your chores at home without being asked.
Look for something extra to do at home or in your community that is helpful.
Organize a park cleanup.
Keep a promise (or your word) even if it is hard.
Express your anger with appropriate words and actions.

HOW TO CARRY OUT OBLIGATIONS TO PLAN

Write a list of all the things you need to do.
Write down when each task or jobs needs to be done.
Write down what you’ll need to accomplish each task or job.
Always have a backup plan—a “plan B.”

MORE ACTIVITIES

Tell about an experience where you exhibited or did not show responsibility.
Think of a new skill or talent you’d like to develop. Practice and share.
Write a poem, jingle, paragraph, or saying about responsibility.
Research discoveries and inventions that have had both positive and negative consequences.
Consider whether math makes you more responsible. Cite examples.
Research responsibility in advertising.
Research responsibility toward indigenous people. Choose a country that was taken from natives by invaders, setters, or foreign governments.
Survey your neighborhood to see who needs help.
Write a skit that demonstrates your school’s rules.
Find a job or start your own business such as a yard service or babysitting.
Make a family jobs chart.
Create a responsibility tree to show what you are responsible for doing.
Make your own daily planner.
Find examples of popular music that promote responsibility, dependability, and perseverance.
Examine the role of responsibility in sports.
Play a “What’s Their Responsibility?” game for various careers.
Read stories about responsibility.

MANY TYPES OF RESPONSIBILITY

Moral Responsibility—to other people, animals, and the earth. This means caring, defending, helping, building, protecting, preserving, and sustaining. You’re accountable for treating other people justly and fairly, for honoring other living things, and for being environmentally aware.

Legal Responsibility—to the laws and ordinances of your community, state, and country. If there’s a law you believe is outdated, discriminatory, or unfair, you can work to change, improve, or eliminate it. You can’t simply decide to disobey it.

Family Responsibility. —Means treating your parents, siblings, and other relatives with love and respect, following your parents’ rules, and doing chores and duties at home.

Community Responsibility. —As a part of the community, you’re responsible for treating others as you want to be treated, for participating in community activities and decisions, and for being an active, contributing citizen. Pick up trash to keep the community clean. Read local and community newspapers to stay informed. Vote in elections when you’re old enough.

Responsibility to Customs, Traditions, Beliefs, and Rules. —These might come from your family, your community, your heritage, or your faith. Learn what they are, and why they are, and do your best to respect / honor and follow them.

Personal Responsibility. — It’s up to you to become a person of good character. Your parents, teachers, religious leaders, scout leaders, and other caring adults will guide you, but only you can determine the kind of person you are and ultimately become. So get organized, be punctual, and honor your commitments.

. . . .

To me, what all of this talk about responsibility comes down to is playing chess and not checkers in life. Responsibility requires that we learn how to think well, that we learn to think ahead, think widely, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and think such that we understand and appreciate the effects of our actions on others.

And it’s clear to me that to the extent that we practice this and role model this—Responsibility—we actually help create a kinder and more thoughtful and harmonious and civil society. And to the extent that we fail to practice this (intentionally or unintentionally), we contribute unnecessary chaos, disorder, even suffering to the world.

IMG_3397


Perhaps a bit over the top, but it makes the point. There are times when as a parent we need to actually step up and give a little tough love. And of course, it depends on the kiddo as well–some children do better with tough love and need that as part of their upbringing; others do fine with lots of tender love and rarely ever do anything that requires tough love.

WEBSITES OF INTEREST—

http://www.52virtues.com/virtues/the-52-virtues.php
http://www.virtuesforchildren.com/the_virtues.html

BOOKLIST for RESPONSIBILITY

*For grades K-4*

Value of Responsibility: Ralph Bunche – Johnson
Brother Eagle, Sister Sky – Jeffers
Horton Hatches the Egg – Dr. Seuss
Arthur Babysits – Brown
Berenstain Bears: Messy Room – Berenstain
Annie and the Skateboard Gang – Carlson
Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes – Koscielniak
Stop, Look and Listen, Mr. Toad – Petty
Katy and the Big Snow – Burton
Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie – Roop
A Light in the Attic – Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends – Silverstein
Salt Boy – Perrine
Shoe Shine Girl – Bulla
Two Bad Ants – Van Allsburg
School’s Out – Hurwitz
It Takes a Village – Cowen-Fletcher
Red Light, Green Light, Mamma & Me – Best
Franklin Plays the Game – Bourgeois
D.W. the Picky Eater – Brown
Valentine – Carrick
Solo – Geraghty
A Very Important Day – Herold
Little Brown Bear Dresses Himself – Lebrun
Nine for California – Levitin
Badger’s Bring Something Party – Oram
The Paperboy – Pilkey
Shaker Lane – Provensen
One Up, One Down – Snyder
Another Mouse to Feed – Kraus
Herbie’s Troubles – Chapman
Pigsty – Teague
Sachiko Means Happiness – Sakai
Strega Nona – De Paola
Swimmy – Lionni
Tell Me a Mitzi – Segal
Amos and Boris – Steig
Five Minutes Peace – Murphy
Luke’s Bully – Winthrop
Horton Hears a Who – Seuss
Little Red Hen
Mother’s Day Mice – Bunting
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – Fox
Arthur’s Pet Business – Brown
Arthur’s Computer Disaster – Brown
Star Wars: a New Hope
Making the World – Wood
Whem Mom Turned into a Monster – Harrison
I Did It, I’m Sorry – Buehner

*For grades 3-6*

Across Five Aprils – Hunt
The Book of Virtues – Bennett
A Christmas Carol – Dickens
Hatchet – Paulsen
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson – Lord
The Indian in the Cupboard – Reid Banks
Island of the Blue Dolphins – O’Dell
Profiles in Courage – Kennedy
Stone Fox – Gardiner
Tuck Everlasting – Babbit
The Yearling – Rawlings
The River – Paulsen
Buffalo Bill & the Pony Express – Dadey
In Trouble with Teacher – Demuth
Julie – George
Nothing But Trouble, Trouble Trouble – Hermes
Marvin Redpost: Alone in His Teacher’s House – Sachar
Learning About Responsibility from the Life of Colin Powell – Strazzabosco
Fudge – Graeber
Dicey’s Song – Voigt
Little House in the Big Woods – Wilder
Malu’s Wolf – Craig
Summer of the Swans – Byars
When the Road Ends – Thesman
The Giver – Lowry

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Trust, Transparency, Honesty, and Mental Health


Trust is an interesting concept—when we open ourselves up and trust another enough to show him or her ALL of our unsightly spots (however many or few there may be) and ALL of our secrets and develop transparency, we are also thereby surrendering control.  No longer will we be in the power position of being the only one able to watch and oversee and monitor all that we say and do, and thus only be accountable to ourselves, we will have now exposed ourselves to another—our partner or spouse—and thus we are also voluntarily making ourselves accountable to that person as well, and to his or her standards.

When we trust, we are, on the one hand, trusting the other person to be fair and just and reasonable in his or her standards and expectations, because we are opening ourselves up to the other person’s feedback, ideas, perspective, scrutiny, questions, even criticisms. 

On the other hand, when we trust another, we are also trusting ourselves to be consistent and to be able to maintain our identity or sense of self and not to be so fragmented or compartmentalized and internally divided and inconsistent that we’re always fighting ourselves such that our right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, or that we’re always reverting back and forth between our healthy self and our sick self.  Trust, first and foremost requires—as well as helps to reinforce and foster—a consistent and coherent sense of self—a consistent and coherent healthy and growth-oriented self. 

Lack of trust in a relationship is a serious issue.  If we are in an intimate relationship and we honestly can’t trust our partner because he or she is unreliable or un-conscientious or un-principled or unstable and or has burned us repeatedly in the past and has done nothing to take responsibility for those violations of trust and correct them and re-earn and re-establish trust, then how truly intimate—or healthy!— can or will that relationship ever be?

And if we’re the person in the relationship who can’t trust ourselves because we’re internally divided and inconsistent and have not yet developed a largely coherent and integrated self or identity, then by being in a relationship and not being honest, open, transparent, and seeking to become more and more trustworthy, we are simply hiding out and enabling the sick and weak part of our self that wants to keep us internally divided and inconsistent.  Because, ultimately in such a situation, trust is a matter of conscience—it’s inexorably connected to the growth and development of a healthy conscience—and so to opt not to try and become a person worthy of trust is to be making the choice—either consciously or unconsciously—to forsake growing up and maturing emotionally and developing our conscience and developing a healthier self.

What Does it Mean to Be “Asleep” in Life?


What does it mean to be “asleep” in life?

Simply put, being “asleep” means being blind to ourselves, being blind to who we are, why we are the way we are, and what it’s like to be on the opposite end of an interaction with us.  It means being ignorant of or unconcerned with all of this and why we do what we do. 

Why do we—or some of us, or the vast majority of people—do this?—sleepwalk through their lives?  Why do we—so many of us—live like this?  Why are so many of us content to live like this?

What’s the payoff?  A supposedly easier life?  A supposedly less painful and stressful and anxious life?

Aside from the obvious answer that everyone else is doing it and living the same (asleep) way, maybe it’s because we’re too full of pride to be willing to look at ourselves honestly (especially if our life is not something shiny and lustrous to behold).  Or maybe it’s because we’re too ignorant and unintelligent and so we lack the cognitive capacities to look at ourselves (which is not likely for most people, especially “educated” people).  Or maybe it’ s because we’re uncourageous because we suspect that we might be too weak to stomach emotionally  looking at ourselves and our mess squarely, and so because we intuitively sense/imagine how stressful and painful doing so will (likely) be, we protect ourselves (self-protect) and refuse to face ourselves in an objective and fair and honest way.   We remain cloudy and asleep rather than clear and awake and piercingly honest.

When we’re asleep in life we’re not self-aware, we’re not self-conscious.  Thus we’re certainly not metacognizing—thinking about our own thinking or examining our own programming and looking at our own behaviors.  And it’s highly likely that our conscience isn’t very active either—honesty likely isn’t a big concern, nor is doing our best or growing toward our best or constantly learning throughout life. 

In short, being asleep means leading an unexamined life.  A life where we’re ignorant of our own biases and double standards and hypocrisies. 

If the unexamined life truly is not worth living, then every moment spent dishonestly or deceptively with ourselves, or ignorant and unaware of our own real motivations and deeper needs and potentials, is life wasted, and every moment where we are contemplatively aware of ourselves or where we are correcting our biases, hypocrisies, self-deception and self-deceit is a moment of life worth living.

When we’re asleep, we’re on auto-pilot and living in ego-mode, we’re lost in our projections and transferences and daydreams and biases and double standards, we’re lost and asleep living a me first life, trying reactively to get our wants and needs (love, validation, safety, security) met and inner-emptiness filled, trying to feel good, living impulsively, and taking the path of least resistant as often as possible, which means as much immediate gratification (damn the future consequences) as possible.

When we’re asleep we’re certainly not engaged in a 24/7 process of constant and never-ending surveillance of ourselves and our own thoughts and behaviors and the underlying reasons for doing what we do and saying what we say.

Blissful  ignorance is the goal when we’re asleep.  Not knowing is the goal.  Not being disturbed or perturbed or awakened is the goal.  Living for the moment, living for fun, living for the next satisfaction or good feeling or psychological high or thrill is the goal.

But not constant self-surveillance.  Not truth.  Not looking at ourselves, examining ourselves, examining our own thinking, really scrutinizing it, really asking why, really being as honest and courageous and straightforward as possible.  These are not the goal.

Why? 

Because they’re not “fun.”  They’re not gratifying.  They don’t relieve or lessen tension—not in the short-term.  In fact, if anything, they cause/create more tension, more unease, more anxiety, more depression, more distress, more stress, more confusion.  Truth doesn’t make us feel good.  Seeing ourselves as we are, with no softeners or buffers, doesn’t make us feel good, especially if we’re a bit of a hot mess or if we’ve made a hot mess of our lives.  So why do it?  Why look at honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter nasty-tasting medicine?

Most of us are still very simple creatures—seek pleasure, avoid pain; seek comfort and security, avoid danger and duress; what tastes or feels good is good for us, what tastes or feels bad must be bad for us.  Most of us live on the autopilot of these sorts of basic, unconscious (unaware) assumptions and patterns.

But waking up means waking up from the sleep that such a way of life engenders.  It means waking up from the sleep of avoiding pain and seeking only pleasure.  It means waking up from the sleep of living and reacting automatically. 

Waking up means asking why.  Waking up means  examining ourselves constantly, asking why constantly—why am I doing this?—what do I really want from this?—why do I really want this?—what will the long-term effect of doing this or getting this or eating this be for myself? et cetera. . . .

Waking up means ceasing to be hypocritical—ceasing to ask others to do what we’re not willing to do, making them do the dirty jobs or go first instead of us.  Waking up means putting an end to our me-first I’m-the-center-of-the-world narcissistic ways.  It means, instead, putting ourselves on the same level as everyone else—“Love means learning to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things, for you are only one thing among many.  And whoever sees that way heals his heart, without knowing it, from various ills” (Czeslaw Milosz)—i.e. various ills such as narcissism, antisocial tendencies, borderline tendencies, depression, a myriad of anxieties, et cetera.

When we’re asleep we can’t see the wisdom in these words of Emerson—“ Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment” (“Self-Reliance”).  When we’re asleep, we (mistakenly) think that what we’re trying to teach—what we intend to teach—is what we actually teach.  But as we awaken, we begin realize—ah, the horror, the horror!—that this is not the case—that instead what we are teaches far more than what we say or what we intend or will or pretend to be but not yet are.  And so as we awaken we get to work on our character—our level of being, our level of differentiation, our conscience, our capacity for virtue, our level of true psychological and spiritual health and courage, our capacity to love and be loved— because this is the part of us that we carry around with us everywhere and that we cannot escape or avoid or outrun or disown—“For only as we ourselves, as adults, actually move and have our being in the state of love, can we be appropriate models and guides for our children. What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become” (Joseph Chilton Pearce).

At every moment, we’re either awake or asleep and so we’re either communicating wakefulness or sleep. 

At every moment we’re either teaching wakefulness or sleep, virtue or pathology. —The opposite of virtue isn’t vice, it’s pathology; sickness.  Vice is a symptom or expression of pathology.  And evil is the most pathological form of pathology.  Healthy people are virtuous people.  Unhealthy people are a mixed bag—a disorderly random amalgamation of virtue and vice, areas of relative integration and coherence and areas of mental unwellness, compartmentalization, distortions, projection, unreality, bias, hypocrisy, denial, avoidance, cowardice, pathology.  

 So why try and wake up from our pathological slumber?  Why burden ourselves with seeing ourselves as we are?  Why look clearly and honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter nasty-tasting medicine?

Because, in all likelihood, it’s the only way out.  If we’re not willing to have the difficult conversations with ourselves, if we’re not willing to look honestly and starkly at ourselves and start putting ourselves under 24/7 around the clock surveillance and really start scrutinizing ourselves and putting ourselves and our actions under the microscope, if we’re not willing to start seeing ourselves for what we are and start calling ourselves out on our own bullshite, then we’re just wasting our lives and we really don’t want to wake up.  Waking up means intimacy—being raw and open and heroically real with ourselves—and doing so constantly.  This is the stuff of the “examined life.”  And short of this, our lives are just a blind decent into the grass, a useless march into oblivion.

Integrity, Honesty & Character


(A little calendar wisdom riffed on from Stephen R. Covey’s 2011 “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” calendar, months September and December)

Integrity includes but goes beyond honesty.

Honesty is telling the truth—in other words, conforming our words to reality.

But integrity is conforming reality to our words—in other words, keeping promises and commitments, and fulfilling expectations.  And to do this requires character—an integrated identity that is in alignment with fundamentally correct life principles, instead of identity diffusion (several contradictory and competing and revolving part-identities as opposed to a coherent unitary self).  Integrity requires a oneness primarily within oneself but also with life, truth, and correct fundamental life principles.

Integrity in an interdependent relationship or nexus of relationships is simply this: you treat everyone according to the same set of principles.

And as you do, people will come to trust you.

They may not at first appreciate the honest confrontational experiences that such integrity might generate.   Many people would prefer to take the course of least resistance  and belittle and blame and betray confidences, be dishonest, overpromise and or go back on their word, or gossip about others behind their back.  Confrontation generated by integrity takes courage, but in the long run people will trust and respect you if you are open and honest and transparent and understanding with them.