Updated: Sep 9, 2020
I was watching Oprah Winfrey Presents Super Soul Conversations the other night and Oprah was interviewing Melinda Gates. She asked a profound question of Mrs. Gates in reference to raising children who are well off. "How do you raise kids who are responsible and kind, who grow up with a sense of grace and yet have their own ambition when they have access to literally everything?" My ears perked up because as a Character Educator I often wonder the same thing.
How do we teach kindness, caring, responsibility and trustworthiness to our youth in a world that promotes self-gratification, violence, entitlement, and dishonesty? Are we, as parents, educators, and community leaders taking the time to promote integrity, safer school environments and open dialogue about the current condition of our homes, communities, and our nation? What is the missing link?
I propose that character development is the missing link. Too often we focus on our children's achievement, or lack thereof, performance testing in our schools, how to be our child's friend instead of being their parent, and how to give our children what we did not have when we were growing up. Our children need a roadmap of some sort just as we did. Basic life skills and character development are just a few of the tools that today's youth need to navigate through life's challenges and to cultivate a heart of compassion and kindness.
Cultivate character by first modeling it.
It doesn't cost a thing to tell a child that you love them or to compliment them. Cultivate character by first modeling it. Be courteous to the waiter at the restaurant. Demonstrate patience with your child and with the cashier at the grocery store. Children model what they see and hear. If they hear positive affirmations and encouragement, they will generally do the same. If youth hear constant cursing, sarcasm, and witness disrespectful behavior towards others they will likely follow your lead. No matter your education, socio-economic status, gender or part of town you come from, what you believe about yourself and how you treat others is paramount. Your character, or lack thereof, will tell all.
Truth is, good character was never missing in the first place. Those of us who are parents, caregivers, and profess to be leaders -- those of us who know better, should be courageous enough to dust off the cobwebs of our memories and share the goodness that is within us with the next generation. We should embrace the values of self-control, responsibility, caring, honesty, and kindness thereby creating a culture of character that flows from our hearts and homes to our neighborhoods, schools, the marketplace, government, and the world.
As I sat up to hear Mrs. Gates' answer to Oprah's question, I was pleased to hear her say that raising kind and responsible kids is "purposeful over time." Mrs. Gates shared that she believes in "putting lots of drops in the bucket", that she is constantly going back to her values. She said "Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Just because I can buy my daughter whatever doesn't mean that I should. She doesn't learn if I just buy it for her." I challenge all of us to this Call to Action. Pick up the "missing" links --those positive and appropriately demonstrated values that we hold true, and connect them one by one, day by day, purposefully over time, and then witness the fruit that is cultivated character.