For a child – or even an adult – to grow positively in character, it indeed takes a village. But the kind of village matters. A community or culture that promotes attitudes of entitlement, excessive self-focus, instant gratification, poor self-regulation, etc. will only help produce individuals impaired in their capacity to relate to others in wholesome, productive ways. That’s what character disturbance is all about.
Mature character demands we outgrow our natural egocentrism. But an entitled, egocentric, narcissistic culture holds many of us back.
To care enough about the welfare of others to want to work on their behalf requires empathy, and is the essence of genuine love. Disturbed characters lack the capacity to love in this way because they lack empathy, and the warning signs are always in the attitudes they display toward accepting obligation.
Some individuals possess innate traits and have learning experiences that together more easily prepare them to lead a responsible life. But other individuals possess traits that make the socialization process inherently more challenging than usual. And, if on top of that such folks just happen to come from environments replete with various types of abuse, neglect, or inadequate guidance, they can enter adulthood with little motivation to bear the burden of responsible living.
Learning to be responsible is largely a matter of accepting burdens for the greater good, and folks lacking in empathy rarely have the motivation to bear such burdens. The willingness to do so can only arise out of love, which is why a person’s incapacity to genuinely love is always reflected in their shirking of responsibility.
In the absence of empathy, it’s impossible to form a functional, mature conscience, and in the absence of conscience, civilization cannot be sustained.
Learning to think of others and the impact of our behavior on others can be infinitely more challenging for those among us biologically predisposed not to feel empathy all that easily. That’s why it’s so important to give ardent attention to this first commandment of character development early on in the socialization process.
No one is born civilized. Socialization is a process. And for some, the learning curve can be quite steep.