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Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Commentary: Parents, teachers build youths’ desire to do good

November 3, 2004

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Editor's note: This is one in a series of commentaries by Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the Character Counts! coalition. He will speak Nov. 8 in Lawrence.

During a seminar for teachers, I asked participants to share experiences that shaped their values. A southern lady shared this story:

"More than 50 years ago, when I was 5, I was at my granddaddy's house dressed up in a white dress and gloves, and he told me that I could go into the kitchen and get a cookie. Next to the cookie jar was a stack of quarters. I knew I shouldn't have, but I took one. I must have looked guilty because when I returned, my granddaddy looked at me funny and asked me to show him my white gloves. I had the quarter in my right hand, so I only held out my left. 'Show me the other hand,' he said. When he saw the quarter, he looked at me real sad. He hugged me up and said, 'Darlin,' you can have anything in the world that I have, but it breaks my heart that you would ever steal it.' I'll never forget the shame, and I never stole anything again."

Her grandfather understood this was a teachable moment, and he didn't shy away from his duty to provide unambiguous moral guidance. And he did so in a manner that made the experience a permanent marker in his granddaughter's life. Without harsh words or punishment, he established high standards and expectations and taught her that, because of his love for her, he was a stakeholder in her choices and that he was hurt when she let him down.

An informed healthy conscience is a built-in punishment/reward system that makes us proud when we do things right and ashamed at our moral missteps.

But such consciences don't develop by accident.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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