Values and character
Values are basic and fundamental beliefs that guide or motivate attitudes or actions. Character, on the other hand, is one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual. I think character is a product of your values. Character is a word people used to mention frequently but not so much anymore. Character was a concept I learned about as a young boy and sought to develop as I grew older. It’s still a work in progress, I fear. It isn’t easy, as the road to achieving character is lined with numerous temptations. By now, you must be wondering why I’ve decided to write about values and character. Well, based on the many tumultuous things going on in the world today, I am compelled to speak out even though some will take issue with this post. I would not be living up to my values or staying true to my character if I didn’t. In this highly polarized world where people are pointing fingers at each other, hurling insults at one another and resorting to violence, I cannot remain silent.
What qualities does society value most in men and in women? What qualities does society say men and women should not have? When I was growing up, character reflected our values and had a simple definition: help others, learn right from wrong and do no harm. Our values, most of which we learn from our parents, grandparents and other extended family members, help us grow and develop. Our values come into play every time we make a decision or take action. The saying “the way you do anything is the way you do everything” is based on how we live our lives and what we consider important. Values such as justice, compassion, courage, honesty, integrity, trust, generosity, empathy, loyalty, fair-play, responsibility, respect and caring were forged in the family, in schools, on playgrounds, in sports, in the military and other areas of social interaction.
Are our values changing?
Is society still practicing these values today? What values are changing? What values are driving our society today? Are we focusing on materialism, narcissism, egotism, greed and selfishness in our “all-about-me world?” People try to do and say the right thing, especially when others are watching us (think of interviews and on-camera appearances), i.e., this incessant need to be “politically correct” for fear of offending someone or some group prevails. But a true test of your character and values is doing and saying the right thing when no one is watching. Values help determine what is right and just in society and are critical for transmitting and teaching a culture’s beliefs, which are the things we hold to be true. Character is trying to live up to our culture’s values, which isn’t always easy. Values suggest how we should behave, but as we’re witnessing today, don’t necessarily reflect how we do behave.
Hindsight is always 20/20
Values are dynamic, changing over time between groups and between cultures as we debate and evaluate how we want to live. And that’s great if done correctly. The recent trend of dismantling the past and rewriting history concerns me, though. Millennials might think they are the most progressive generation that’s ever lived, but here’s a newsflash: Every generation has always been the most progressive that ever-lived, not just you guys. Generation Z will probably look at you and laugh when they come of age. So, when it comes to the idea of rewriting our history, I think we should be careful about demanding that those in the past should have lived their lives according to our current norms and values. Hindsight is always 20/20. Rather than tearing down statues and monuments and insisting that our forefathers conform to 21st-century values, younger people should understand that ideas and values continuously change and that they, too, will one day find themselves and their actions on the firing line.
Endeavor to improve, not destroy
Don’t tear down everything the generations before you built – even if their actions seem brutish, unfair and nasty by today’s standards. If you do, you are no better than the highly authoritarian Soviet Union and China I grew up watching. Countries that simply removed people who fell out of favor from photographs as if they never existed. We should always endeavor to improve, and protesting is a great way. In fact, it’s a human right that many of my brothers- and sisters-in-arms have given their lives to defend. Don’t allow their sacrifices to be in vain. I understand that people feel frustrated and hopeless but rioting, looting and meaningless destruction is not the answer or the solution. It doesn’t help us move forward. It’s time to take a deep look into our souls and think about what we are leaving behind for future generations.
Are schools failing?
It’s time for critical reflection about values we transmit to our children. Our schools should be giving students more meaningful discussions and instruction about character, morality, ethics, honesty, tolerance, acceptance of others and moral courage, among other character traits. And if they aren’t teaching these, does than mean that these values are no longer important in becoming productive, successful citizens? Deciding which ethical beliefs and character traits schools should teach is not easy. Rather than imposing values on students why not explore these tough issues in the context of academic work? I keep thinking of the wise words of the native American Shawnee Indian warrior and chief Tecumseh and wondering how we have strayed so far from this old wisdom.
live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion;
respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.
Seek to make your life
long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend,
even a stranger, when in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
Whether you agree or disagree with my views of values and character isn’t important. What is important is that we must agree that we cannot continue like this. When firearms, fists and insults replace productive dialog, we have a serious problem. There is much work to be done. We must learn to work together, or our entire society will careen off a cliff. It won’t be easy. It will require dedication and hard work, but we can do it. I’ll leave you with a thought from American novelist Alice Walker, “keep in mind the present you are creating, it should be the future you want!”