Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct when he called out the importance of the content of our character. Character is what the world sees of us, and what allows others to know whether or not we can be trusted. More than nearly anything else, character is the measure of who we are.
How do people develop character? Well, first and most important, by what they are taught and what they see as they grow up. Very simply, placing examples of virtue in front of young people as early as possible, and as often as possible, forms character.
It is those positive pictures that they see, absorb, and understand are of great personal value that they will be drawn toward. Remember: human beings are picture-oriented; it’s hardwired in our brains.
You see, you don’t build character in your children by trying to control them or telling them what to do. You build it by consistently doing the right thing yourself and not making a big fuss about it. You build it by telling and reading your children stories that reinforce goodness from the time they are very young. Remember, you are your child’s best example, the one they see before all others.
So, what is the right thing? Well, honesty, accountability, fairness, tolerance, civility and kindness, for starters. Without these, trust will be difficult to earn. Teach them the ability to listen, even when it’s something they don’t want to hear. Think about adding in compassion and empathy as they grow and learn. Show them that there are at least two sides to every issue.
Talk to them about hypocrisy, self-deception, cruelty and selfishness when you see it around you, in language they will understand. Avoid delivering a lecture that they can turn off. Just make it clear that there are better ways of living, and that you expect them to live up to your picture of them as people of fine character.
Providing the pictures of what to do right, first, goes a long way to ensuring your children adopt the examples as a part of their own fine character.