On January 17, we celebrate the birthday of the late Martin Luther King — and we celebrate also how many aspects of his legendary “I have a dream” speech have come to pass since then, including the election of the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama.
Over the decades since King’s assassination, we have remembered him as a heroic opponent of injustice, and perhaps as a martyr to the cause of unmet civil rights. But with the shockwave of hope that spun around the world after the election of Obama, perhaps now we can see deeper into the workings of character—and how Dr. King’s priorities, commitment, and dedication to his beliefs planted seeds that would grow to fruition in only two generations.
This is, of course, is a great example to our children, and those who were able to witness the election of our county’s first African-American President will not soon forget it.
But how can today’s parents help their children to nurture their dreams — and develop the character to live them out — in a culture that has become increasingly materialistic and success-oriented since the 1960s?
“Our culture and our educational system have become preoccupied with achievement since the time of Dr. King,” says Malcolm Gauld, parenting expert and president of Hyde Schools, a group of public and boarding schools that focus on character and leadership development
“We have come to measure success by jobs, grades, test scores, awards, and the cars we drive. We have created an atmosphere that places image and results over inspiration and the process of learning. Nonetheless, inspiration and the learning process remain at the core of growth.
Gauld explains that in a character culture achievement is valued, but principles are valued more. That is, what one stands for is more important than how one is stacking up against others
“Character is inspired, not imparted,” says Gauld. “We’ve learned firsthand at our schools that we cannot pour it into our kids or our families. It takes work, and sometimes we put our relationships at risk when we hold to our convictions as parents. But the strongest relationships are those resting on a foundation of principles.
Gauld and his wife, Laura, also authors of the book “The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have (Scribner) and founders of the seminars that emerged from it, teach those principles through what they call the 10 PRIORITIES — a collection of guiding concepts that are not always easy to embrace, but which produce great lasting results. They are explained here:
PRIORITY #1—TRUTH OVER HARMONY
We all want honest families. We also want everyone to get along. Which do we want more? This priority calls upon parents to put the weight of their feet on the side of truth.
PRIORITY #2—PRINCIPLES OVER RULES
We tend to apply rules when things start to spin out of control. But rules alone are not a guiding force. Rules must be rooted in deep principles.
PRIORITY #3—ATTITUDE OVER APTITUDE
Parents can help their children by sending the message that honest efforts are more important than successful outcomes.
PRIORITY #4—SET HIGH EXPECTATIONS and LET GO OF THE OUTCOMES
We need to aim high with our expectations for our kids and resist “lowering the bar” when we sense that our children are encountering difficulty. Letting go of the outcome allows our children to take responsibility for their actions.
PRIORITY #5—VALUE SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Today’s parents have a hard time letting their children fail. Success is important, but failure can teach powerful lifelong lessons leading to profound personal growth.
PRIORITY #6—ALLOW OBSTACLES TO BECOME OPPORTUNITIES
We can get caught up in trying to “fix” our children’s problems (e.g., disagreements with their teachers, coaches, etc.) instead of seeing the potential for positive learning opportunities.
PRIORITY #7—TAKING HOLD AND LETTING GO
It is hard to watch our children struggle with life’s challenges. When should we step in? When should we step away? This is one of the toughest parenting dilemmas. We practice letting go, when appropriate.
PRIORITY #8—CREATE A CHARACTER CULTURE
This priority can help parents create an atmosphere of character in the home through the application of a three-point plan: a daily job, a weekly family meeting, and a concept called “mandatory fun.”
PRIORITY #9—HUMILITY TO ASK FOR AND RECEIVE HELP
While parents focus on helping their children, many avoid asking others for help. Consequently, they raise children who do not ask for help.
PRIORITY #10—INSPIRATION: JOB #1
Regardless of what they might say or do, children and teens share a deep yearning to be inspired by their parents. Ironically, we will not inspire our children with our achievements. We best inspire them when we share our struggles, reach for our best, and model daily character.