November 3, 2015

What will you choose?

By Bill Cirone

Publisher Dwight Moody once said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

In the current national climate of political attack and shrillness, it seems more important than ever to make sure our young people learn the core values of honesty and decency.

The idea is not new. Several years ago major corporate employers rated the five employee traits that are most and least important to them.

The highest rankings were all “work ethic” items: arriving on time, not stealing, putting in a full day’s work, being reliable.

Interestingly, the lowest-rated items were academic pedigree, knowledge, and experience.

The late Rushworth Kidder, author of Moral Courage, reinforced these findings through his own research. He pointed to troublesome indications that adults’ ethics have been moving in the wrong direction.

Today we can cite hedge fund managers and a broad range of banking and white-collar fraud as examples of unethical behaviors that send the wrong messages to young people.

The good news is that a large portion of the public has noticed this gradual degradation, and seems to care.

Several schools throughout our county have been using constructive programs that provide values education.

The Anti-Defamation League’s “A World of Difference” Institute, and its “No Place for Hate” initiative in particular, are excellent resource hubs for educators at every level. The Institute “recognizes that attitudes and beliefs affect actions,” they write on their website, “and that each of us can have an impact on others, and ultimately, on the world in which we live.”

The common thread is that important values are selected, discussed, and practiced.

No single institution is responsible for the challenges that face our youth and adults today, and no one institution can solve the problems in isolation. I applaud our public schools for becoming an increasingly large part of the effort.

An ethic of caring.

It may seem obvious, but it nonetheless should be stated explicitly: an ethic of caring is worth fostering among our children if we want to live in a society that is compassionate and kind.

Research confirms what common sense tells us: the more young people value compassion, kindness, and helping people, the more likely they are to actually help out when the need arises.

That’s why it is important to promote values of caring in our communities, our schools, our families, and our congregations.

This is especially the case these days, when the media messages that bombard our young people are filled with themes we would just as soon have our children shun: violence, celebrity worship, materialism.

It is unlikely a young person will develop caring values unless he or she is continually exposed to adults who model and reward them.

This includes parents and teachers, as well as a broad array of other adults and role models as well.

On Oct. 27 and 28, nearly 1,500 junior high school students in Santa Barbara County were provided with one such model. Former Santa Barbara resident and current sophomore at New York University Aija Mayrock addressed four separate assemblies at four different schools to talk about her experiences being bullied as a young teenager.

“I am not what happened to me,” she told her young audience. “I am what I choose to become.” With crowds the size Mayrock was addressing, there were doubtless many there with whom her compassionate, empowering message resonated. Later, she added, “I want to be who I needed when I was younger.”

It is critical that values like the ones Aija Mayrock, the ADL, and others are promoting be reinforced in young people’s everyday lives, in order to override the competing messages that surround them through music, videos, games, and television.

Though we live in a time when the country appears polarized and fragmented, the goal of fostering an ethic of caring is not impossible to achieve.

It will take a concerted effort among those who value that outcome. It is clear we ALL have our work cut out for us if we want to succeed. I, for one, feel deeply that it is worth the effort.