Character Counts

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In my New Year’s column, I painted a picture of how common sense has been sacrificed over the last five decades. Boy, did many readers take me to task for being so negative! I didn’t realize how bad things were then. And today life really is a lot better. Their kids are doing great!

And I’m glad for them. Mine are, too! But that’s one of the problems with anecdotal evidence: remember when Nixon’s 1972 presidential win confounded New York journalists, because no one they knew voted for him? They had a closed system of acquaintances, and so they thought the world was other than it was. Similarly, our own little circle may be thriving, but that doesn’t mean that all families are. The rates of family breakdown and delinquency today over fifty years ago shows a definite trend, and it isn’t pretty.

Nevertheless, the readers had a point. Their kids are doing well, and just because our culture may be going off the rails is no reason that our own kin have to follow. On an individual basis, we can challenge the norms and beat the odds. We all know that; that’s why we have so many New Year’s resolutions, even if they do have about as good a chance as being honoured as Dion did at becoming Prime Minister.

Yet have you ever noticed that most of our resolutions concern weight? We’re going to exercise. We’re not going to sneak the kids’ chocolate. We’re going to diet, at least for the next few days before our resolve passes.

Being healthy is certainly an admirable goal, but I’m curious as to why we focus so much on food. Other variables influence our health, too. For men, especially, being married is a health boon. It’s the equivalent to never having smoked. And common law relationships don’t have the same health bonus. Divorce, on the other hand, is a health killer. So if we’re really interested in health, maybe we should focus on our relationships, too!

The same is true for our children. We want them to succeed and do well in life, but we tend to focus on academics, as if that’s all that counts. But if we want to raise kids who will be independent, motivated, and responsible, good marks are no guarantee of anything! We all know brilliant young men with no drive who waste their lives on video games. Intelligence is not nearly the determinant for future success as work ethic and morals are.

I think many parents, though, just assume that their children will turn out okay. They give them the best toys, an easy life, and help them to succeed in school, assuming that this will steer their children into becoming good citizens. But without a real moral foundation, there’s no guarantee that this will happen.

Our culture is spreading a message which is the exact antithesis of real success in life. It says that appearance matters more than ethics; that sex is the way to popularity; that money can buy happiness (and so can electronic gadgets); and that the best thing in life is to have fun, not to be productive. The only way for our children to combat these attitudes is for us to take an active role in their lives and show them the benefits of acting responsibly.

Our New Year’s Resolutions for our children, then, should primarily focus on character. If you raise a child with good morals, the rest will follow. If you raise a self-centred, irresponsible but intelligent child, they’re unlikely to go far. So this year, can you teach them to do chores, so that they learn basic life skills and learn to think of others before they make a mess? Can you refuse to allow your children to call each other names, to gossip about others, or to degrade anyone else? Can you stop watching movies or TV shows that promote the wrong message?

Our society has many dark corners, making it easy to believe that life is inevitably moving in the wrong direction. But we can beat the odds if we start focusing on what really matters. This year, prioritize your relationships. Prioritize character, both in yourself and in your kids. And maybe we can finally build a culture where goodness and kindness are truly valued.

S. Wray Gregoire
Latest posts by S. Wray Gregoire (see all)

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