Monday, July 27, 2009

44) Habits (continued)

"Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well." Philip Chesterfield

We should inculcate in children, very early, the spirit of excellence. From childhood they should realize the benefit and pleasure of doing things well. Charles Gore gives this habit the right orientation, when he writes: "God wants us to do ordinary things extraordinarily well". Such a habit will spring from discontent in doing things in a compromised fashion. E.g.,our children are compromising when they study at school, but settle for average performance; complete homework, but not benefit from it; carry out a chore at home because mummy ordered it, and not because the home has to be neat and tidy. When children grow up compromising, they lose the cutting edge to compete and get ahead. The effort is not worth it, they argue. That is when parents have to step in and show them that doing THEIR BEST is more important than doing THE BEST. How?

First, by raising the bar; pushing up expectations; setting goals that are not easy to achieve, but attainable. Let us stop to consider Goethe's wisdom: "Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be". Replace 'man' with 'child' and the picture is clear.
Lord Grant conveys the same thought, in different words: "The greater danger, for most of us, lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark". Toppers in any field are inspired to beat their own high standards; always raising the bar. Antonio Stradivari(1644-1737)put his signature to the violin he made, only when he was convinced that the violin was excellent. The tradition continues though Stradivari is long dead. When we have the spirit of excellence, it is easier to instill that spirit in our children.

Second, by expecting excellence from others. Children who pursue the spirit of excellence will expect excellence from others; they thrive in such conditions. To live and work in mediocre conditions is disadvantageous to them. They should attend schools where excellence is more than a motto; it should be a way of life. They should enjoy the company of like-minded children. They must rejoice in belonging to a home where the spirit of excellence is like the air they breathe. The analogy is simple - only in the right soil conditions will a good seed grow and yield a rich harvest.

Third, by setting priorities. Too many goals and the effort is spread thin. E.g.,
classes, then tuition classes, then music lessons, then dance practice, then tennis and so on. In such high pressure conditions children are stretched and dissipated. Instead, if they prioritized and stuck to limited objectives, they would have the energy and enthusiasm to perform better. Today's children are a tired and dispirited lot, because they chase too many dreams. If only they prioritized!

Fourth, by showing them how to take the initiative. To follow others when danger lurks, is safe but not courageous. To follow others in everyday life exposes a lack of initiative. Children should revel in doing things without prodding. To risk answering difficult questions, to accept the challenge of a difficult assignment, to volunteer to do a difficult task, to offer to help the needy, as others back off, are signs of initiative in a child who is unafraid. Louise L. Hay has sound advice for such children: "Be willing to take the first step, no matter how small it is".

Fifth, by making them persevere. Joe was a senior salesman, who was assigned a tough customer, who refused to buy the Company's products, despite the efforts of some of the top executives. One day, at a sales meeting, Joe announced that he was given a large order by the tough customer. Jaws dropped. How could it be? What was Joe's secret. Modest in his ways, Joe admitted to meeting the customer 125 times before he was rewarded. Someone in the meeting asked Joe: "Would you have stopped meeting the customer at some stage, if he did not buy from you?" Joe pondered the question and replied: "It depends". "Depends on what?" Laconically, Joe answered: "Who died first". If ever there was a test for perseverance, here was one! A pithy Japanese Proverb conveys the spirit of perseverance: "Fall seven times, stand up eight".
Try, try again, was the lesson the defeated King Bruce of Scotland learned, as he watched a spider weave its web, falling many times, but not giving up.

"One thousand falsehoods are not as good as one truth." Chinese Proverb

A mother who was at her wits end trying to correct her son who lied repeatedly, told him of the Devil, who with fiery eyes, a long tail and horns, tormented children who lied. The son heard his mother and promised not to lie again, because he could not match his mother who was a smarter liar. Lying inflicts punishment on the liar, in the words of George Bernard Shaw: :A liar's punishment is not that he is not believed
but that he cannot believe anyone". Wasn't that true of the son who could not believe even his mother? There is yet another punishment. "A good liar needs a good memory", is an observation the Arabs make. The liar must tax his memory time and again, to recall what lie he told whom, to avoid getting tangled in his web of lies.
When children drift from the truth(white lies are not excluded), we must come down on them with a heavy hand, if necessary. It is like fighting a stubborn infection with strong antibiotics.

"A moment of time is like a piece of gold, but a piece of gold will not buy a moment of time." Chinese Proverb

We are alerted that time is priceless. Time Management Consultant, Antonio Herrara asked the participants in a seminar: "If we had to buy time, would there be any difference in how we would spend it? Would the days of our life be used more wisely?
What if you had to pay in advance one hundred dollars an hour for the time allotted to you? Would you waste time?" The answer was a decisive 'No'. If paying for time is the only way we will understand its value, perhaps God should charge us each time he gives us a new lease of life - every morning. Waste does not stop with time. Talents are wasted. Opportunities are not converted. Possessions are left to rust. Friendships are allowed to wither and not blossom. Management of any resource is serious business, and waste in any form is anathema.

Are we ready to hand-hold our children through tedious exercises meant to cultivate
character-building habits? The price is high, but the treasure it buys is invaluable.

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