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Pass It Along

“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.”

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