From the teens who were so “bored” they thought they’d amuse themselves by shooting a person at random just for the experience of “watching him die,” to the young celebrity singer who unabashedly sought to create notoriety for herself by engaging in raucous, suggestive behavior on live TV without concern for the young, impressionable minds likely to be watching, we’re bombarded daily with news that beg the questions of what it is about our culture that fosters such character impairment in our young people and what needs to be done to facilitate the kind of character development in them that will enable them to enter adulthood as responsible individuals. In my book Character Disturbance, I discuss what I like to call the “10 Commandments” of character development. Each “commandment” represents a cultural “learning imperative” that my years of experience working with character-deficient individuals taught me is crucial for developing sound moral fiber. And in the upcoming series of articles, I’ll be exploring each one of these character-development imperatives more deeply (hopefully, with abundant input from and discussion among the readers). The only reliable way to stem the character crisis plaguing all aspects of our society today is for the principles of sound character development to become more widely recognized, endorsed, and actively promoted. So, in these articles, I intend to do my part to serve that cause.
I didn’t “invent” the 10 commandments of character. Rather, I applied what I thought might be a thought-provoking title to some time-honored and proven principles of integrity development. So it’s with some necessary humility that I offer this brief summary of the essential axioms my experience has shown me an individual must observe in their personal development to become a person of sound character:
- You are not the center of the universe. Be mindful of how you, your urges and desires, and most especially your behavior impact everyone and everything else that exists.
- Remember, you are not really entitled to anything. Strive to be genuinely grateful.
- You are neither an insignificant speck nor are you so precious or essential to the universe that it simply cannot do without you. Keep a balanced perspective on your sense of worth.
- Have the utmost reverence for the truth. Be ever mindful of humankind’s incredible capacity to deceive, including oneself. Honestly and humbly acknowledge and reckon with your mistakes.
- Be the master of your appetites and aversions.
- Be the master of your impulses.
- Strive to develop solidity, strength and rightness of purpose, with regard to your will.
- Neither your tendency to anger nor your instinct to aggress is inherently evil. But fight only when necessary, fight fairly, and above all, fight constructively and with as much care as possible to make things better while respecting the rights, needs, and boundaries of others.
- Treat those you encounter with civility and generosity.
- To the best of your ability, be of sincere heart and purpose.
The ten commandments of character development and a discussion about how they can be incorporated into a person’s character development can be found on pages 140-155 of Character Disturbance. But this series of articles will discuss these character learning imperatives in much greater depth, beginning today, with the “first commandment” (from Character Disturbance, p. 140):
You are not the center of the universe. Rather, you are but a small part of a greater reality much more vast, complex, and wondrous than you can possibly even imagine. You inhabit space with many other persons, creatures, and objects of creation. So, despite your innate tendencies to think otherwise, it’s definitely not all about you. Therefore, be mindful of how you, your wishes, desires, and especially your behavior impact everyone and everything else that exists. Conduct yourself with both caution and concern for the consequences of your very presence to the rest of creation.
Accepting and adhering to the first commandment of character development is an inherently difficult task. Young children are naturally narcissistic and self-focused. It’s second nature for them to think that the world revolves around them. One of the principal challenges of effective socialization is to guide a child beyond their primitive view of themselves and the world around them. Eventually, they must be able to see themselves as a part of a much bigger reality and become mindful of the impact they might have on others and the world around them. But there are many factors that can impede the learning of this important life lesson. Sometimes, a child’s caregivers have an excessive, unhealthy emotional need that they attempt to satisfy through their children. As a result, they might dote on the child too intensely and/or too often, and in so doing can send the message that the child is indeed the very center of things. Other times, caregivers can be too absent a presence in their children’s lives and/or too neglectful. This leaves the child overly “hungry” for attention and recognition as well as overly focused on their needs.
It was once widely believed that children would naturally move toward positive growth unless they experienced “trauma” of some type. But we now know that what doesn’t happen in the way of learning important life lessons is just as important to character development as the tragic events that might beset a person and arrest or impede their character formation. There are many ways certain aspects of our culture interfere with successful internalization of the principle represented by this first commandment. And next week we’ll continue the discussion about this can happen using some actual case examples. We’ll also begin the discussion of the second commandment. Stay tuned!