Archive for Friday, November 5, 2004

Character counts!

Lesson-teachers needn’t be perfect

November 5, 2004


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 Monday in Lawrence.

Whether you're a teacher, coach, parent or boss, with the power and duty to instruct, inspire and discipline others, you've probably faced the challenge: Who are you to teach me? Implicit in the question is the idea that if you're not perfect you have no qualifications or moral standing to teach, preach or punish. That's simply not true.

Of course, inconsistencies between our words and personal conduct will undermine our credibility and give others an excuse to reject our message, but valid and valuable lessons can be taught by imperfect people. A coach doesn't have to be able to do a back flip to teach it and important lessons about right and wrong can be taught by those who do not live consistently saintly lives.

What's more, people struggling to live up to their own standards can be even more effective precisely because they understand the nature and power of temptation and the ever-present possibility of bad judgment. I often comfort myself with this thought. Despite my preoccupation with issues of ethics and character, I know I'm no paragon of virtue. I frequently fall short of my moral ambitions.

For example, I want to be thin -- especially when I'm not hungry! I want to be healthier as part of my responsibility to my family and others who care about or rely on me. Still, every day is a challenge, not because I don't know what I should do, but because I love steak and bagels and doughnuts and, unfortunately, resisting temptation most of the time simply isn't good enough.

We shouldn't give up on our pursuit of perfection, but we also shouldn't wait till we're perfect to teach what we know and believe is right.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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