“If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig.” — Woodrow Wilson
As you think about what you ought to do for other people, passing your character along to your children and to other kids with whom you have contact is both a responsibility and an opportunity. Children don’t come into the world with their character pre-packaged. Rather, it develops and evolves through their early years. Character is learned and thus, is taught. Yes, some kids learn faster and more completely than others; but learn they do. William J. Bennett clearly understood this teaching/learning process when he said, “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.”
First, do you know what character is and are you passing it on? It was passed on to you when you were a kid; and now it’s your turn. The youngster may live at your house, deliver your paper, be playing across the street, or just walk by; but pass IT on you do. Are you warm and gentle, friendly and accepting? If so, it feels like acceptance and being valued, inclusion and being important. If you are cold and indifferent, detached and suspicious, it feels like ; well, you know how IT feels. That is why you need to pass your character on very carefully, especially to young people.
When describing character, Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Your responsibility is to guide and nurture the growth of the tree of character in your children so it casts a clear, stable, unambiguous shadow in the child’s world. Both the tree and its shadow need to incorporate the values, beliefs, priorities, and choices that you have passed on. This is, as Plutarch suggested, not an event but is, rather, something that builds, day to day. “Character is simply habit long continued.” The same point was also echoed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The force of character is cumulative.”
Next, as you pass character on to your children, remember that you are the model. To be a great model, you have to walk the walk, talk the talk, have all the right moves, and amaze your fans. If you have kids or hang-around with someone who does, you have already got an enthusiastic following; and follow you they will. Given time, they will walk your walk, talk your talk, and your moves will be theirs. You are the model and they are your work-in-progress. How is your creation coming along? If you don’t have it quite right yet, it will help to know that you need to give more emphasis to being a better model for kids than to molding them. They will do as you do. As the famous Anon. reminds, “The acorn never falls far from the tree.”