Who are your heroes and why does it matter?
We emulate out heroes; we want to be more like them; we strive to achieve what they have achieved.
Choosing the right heroes helps you to build your character. Choosing the wrong heroes undermines your character.
According to Paul Tough’s Sunday Times Magazine story children at the toney private school called Riverdale Country School have been subjected to a self-esteemist form of character education.
Better yet, parents pay enormous sums of money to allow administrators and counselors to deconstruct their children’s character. One assumes that they do not know better or do not dare question the school’s authority.
Children at the school do not learn how to compete, how to strive, how to work hard, or how to excel. They learn to have a heart full of the right kinds of feelings.
A counselor expressed her viewpoint: ““When I think of good character, I think: Are you fair? Are you honest in dealings with other people? Are you a cheater?.... “I don’t think so much about: Are you tenacious? Are you a hard worker? I think, Are you a good person?”
Tough describes her attitude: “Character, as far as I could tell, was being defined at Riverdale mostly in terms of helping other people — or at least not hurting their feelings.” He adds that it was “a blueprint for niceness.”
Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson call it “a finger-wagging guilt trip.”
They are correct. These children are being submitted to a regimen that will produce a politically correct form of moral deformity.
When asked by their teachers to name people they took to be heroes the children mostly chose people who had martyred themselves for civil or human rights. Among them we find Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who immolated himself to protest an oppressive government and ignited a revolution.
While self-immolation might earn you martyrdom, do we really want to count it as a heroic gesture?
Sometimes people sacrifice themselves for good causes. Sometimes for causes that are not so good.
But, does that really make them heroes we want children to emulate. What would a child have to do if he wanted to emulate Mohamed Bouazizi? Sacrifice his life to a cause?
And what would constitute a fitting sacrifice? Would a bad report card be a sufficient sacrifice? Should he drop out of school in order to to protest grievances? Should he join ACORN?
Keep in mind that self-sacrificing martyrs do not become martyrs because they have worked hard, or because they have been trustworthy and responsible and loyal.
If the child’s hero is Alex Rodriguez he will devote more time and effort to improving his baseball skills. If his hero is Douglas McArthur he will aim at a career in the military. If his hero is George Washington he might aspire to military or political success. If his hero is Steve Jobs he will set out to focus on learning about computers.
A child who chooses the right role model will aspire to excellence. A child who chooses the wrong role model might sacrifice himself for the right cause, but his work will surely suffer for it.
The right role models are leaders; they are not solitary individuals. They work for the good of the team; they exhibit sportsmanship, discipline, and perseverance in the face of failure.
Tough’s article wonders how children learn good character. They do not learn it by being brainwashed into the self-sacrificial morality of guilt trips. They learn good character by competing for good grades in class, by participating in athletic teams or school plays or math leagues, by joining the boy scouts or the girl scouts or a junior ROTC program.
You do not build character by doing therapy.
You do not build character by learning about yourself, by understanding why you have bad character or by learning that you can change your character by changing the way you think.
You build character by learning and following the rules of good behavior. You do not need to know why these rules exist; you do not need to know where they came from. You need merely to follow them.
Also, you learn discipline by being disciplined. You do not learn it by being worshiped as infallible. You learn perseverance by being pushed beyond your limits. You do not learn it by being coddled into a moral stupor.