"Your character is essentially the sum of your habits." Rick Warren
Since habits make up character, our children should be groomed from infancy in habits
that will give them a solid character-base. Abigail Van Buren writes of the best way
to gauge character: "The best index to a man's character is how he treats people who can't do him any good, and how he treats people who can't fight back ". In other words, the test is how a person treats less important people; the weak ones. Another way of framing the test is to find out if he has consideration for others. Jesus Christ spoke of three loves: a)love of God, b)love of neighbor, and c)love of self. He asked His followers to love others as they loved themselves. So, love of self is not taboo, but the sanction to make room for others. The Golden Rule(posts 37,38)embodies these noble thoughts. That person has character who keeps the Golden Rule. To do that he must cultivate habits which endear him to others. John Dryden throws light on how the sequence works: "We first make our habits, then our habits make us". When our children cultivate good habits, they reap an abundant harvest of
good character. A school which understood the significance of character, prided in the motto: CHARACTER BEFORE CAREER.
1) MAKING A HABIT OF 'CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS'.
a)"Consideration for others' will spring from the habit of LOOKING FOR GOODNESS in others. When we find goodness in others, we are drawn to them. Being all eyes and ears to spot such goodness is a huge effort with compensations. Rewards follow in the form of cordial relationships; even friendships.
When we have consideration for others, we believe that we are doing others a favor.
Ralph Waldo Emerson disagrees: "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another, without helping himself". That is a new angle - when we help others we help ourselves. This beautiful discovery adds impetus to our effort to be good to others, because we gain in the process.
Actually, Emerson only echoes what Confucius voiced many centuries ago: "He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own". A short story
illustrates this point. In 'Living the 7 Habits', Stephen R.Covey tells the story of
a father and his 9 year old daughter who play a game on a half hour drive. Wanting the child to feel good, the father suggests that they both fill in the blanks to statements starting with: "I feel good about you ----"; and "I liked what you did because ----". In his eagerness to please his daughter and to genuinely express his love for her, the father swiftly completes sentences that compliment his child. The child is thrilled that her father appreciates some of her ways and loves her dearly.
In her innocence she also completes sentences on her father. At the end of the drive
the father is beside himself with joy that his little daughter has much affection for him. What started out as a one-way act of goodness, turned out to be a two-way affair. Their relationship rose to a new level after that drive. Surely, Confucius and Emerson have a point.
b) The habit of SPEAKING WELL of others, and not aiming darts at them, elevates the person. Without his knowing it, there is a halo over his head. An old woman who was never known to speak ill of others was tested by a group of young fellows who asked her what she thought of the Devil. Not batting an eyelid, she replied: "To his credit, he is always on the job". To find something nice to say, even of the Devil puts the old lady in a special category.
c) Running down others is a common weakness. We are brazen when we fault a person in the presence of others. What is worse is to SPEAK ILL of him, when he is not present to defend himself. This weakness is against one of the 14 precepts of Buddhism. Equally bad is the habit of using FOUL LANGUAGE, to prefix and suffix comments. Children think it is 'cool' to use foul and vulgar expressions. They should be checked and disciplined, if necessary. They run the risk of endangering their progress, if they do not correct themselves.
d) The habit of GIVING CREDIT where it is due, speaks highly of a fair and appreciative mind. On being congratulated for his brilliant rendering of Beethoven's
Violin Concerto, a world famous Violinist responded: "I have splendid music, a splendid violin and a splendid bow. All I have to do is to bring them together, and get out of the way". He does not draw attention to himself or his skill, but is ready to give credit to great music and a splendid instrument. Positively, a noble trait!
e) The habit of APOLOGIZING for wrong doing calls for enormous courage. When that courage is summoned the impact is enormous. Synn Johnstone tells us why: "An apology is the super glue of life. It can repair just about anything". So many relationships fall apart, never to be glued back, for want of an apology. "I'm sorry", "Please forgive me", are words difficult to wrench from a proud and unyielding heart.
Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector, though short in stature, stands tall after he apologies to Jesus and make amends for defrauding people. His position, wealth and prospect of more wealth do not deter him from asking for forgiveness. The Gospels Show how a small man was capable of big deeds.
f) The habit of KEEPING PROMISES guarantees the respect of others. An extract from Bits and Pieces has a recommendation: "The world is divided into two classes of people. The few who make good on their promises(A), and the many who don't(B). Get in column (A), and stay there. You'll be valuable, wherever you are". A father who did not read this injunction, promised to take his 8 year old son to the Zoo on Sunday afternoon. The boy waited for long hours, but the father chose to go to the Race Course. When he returned, late that evening and made excuses to his little son, the boy kept repeating: "But you promised".
g) Only an organized person has the habit of KEEPING APPOINTMENTS, replying mails and returning calls without delay. He realizes that he would not like to be kept waiting. So he does not keep others waiting; he would not want his mails ignored or calls not returned, so he responds promptly. Moliere tells us how serious such omissions can be: "It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable". Definitely, those who ignore such niceties are accountable.
h) The habit of NOT EXPLOITING OTHERS comes from good breeding. We do not exploit others, mainly because we have consideration for others. Free-riding is an uncharitable twist. When children exploit weaker siblings at home, weaker classmates
at school and parents who show weakness, they are exposing a vulnerable side of their character. They get paid back by bullies. We would want to shield our children from bullies. That places on us an added responsibility.
NOTE: The 8 points covered here proceed from the principal habit of 'consideration for others'. In the next post we shall look at a few more habits.