Building Character, The Work of a Lifetime

:05 read “Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.”~ Heraclitus

In my last post, I wrote about the way people with impeccable character and integrity utterly fascinate us. Folks like them take on a nearly epic, larger-than-life mystique. Guys, I think we’ve missed the memo somehow. People are not born with greatness of character. It isn’t some kind of “it factor” we inherit like blue eyes or long legs. We develop outstanding character over time as we learn to make good choices. Integrity is polished by hardships, disappointments and do-overs. In fact, it’s rare to find someone with high character that has not experienced more than their fair share of adversity.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” ~ Helen Keller

But what are we doing to learn character development? Who’s teaching it? And, can we learn it only in an apprenticeship-type relationship if we’re lucky enough to have a parent or mentor we can observe and model? I hope not! Because that would limit it to a fortunate few. Clearly, my current obsession is to learn how a person can develop great character. Curiosity always sends me into research mode, diving in a new rabbit hole, eager to discover more. Boom! I’ve discovered I’m not a solitary “still, small voice” looking for answers. In fact, resources abound!

I pointed out in Monday’s post that “character” is neither good nor bad, it’s simply a word that describes our traits. The Worthy Values First system encourages everyone to “become their best.” For that reason, we’ll focus entirely on character traits that are positive and strong.

What are some of the resources available for teaching character?

We believe that the best resource for learning positive character traits is the family home. We encourage parents to teach children about positive traits like honesty and compassion right from the start. Children first learn by watching what we do and it’s happening even while the little ones are still non-verbal. When taught as a part of everyday life, it becomes a natural tendency.

Sadly, this always isn’t the case for families nowadays. Today’s educators are working hard to bridge the gap. It’s extremely difficult to educate children effectively when they’re struggling emotionally. Character development is a critical step to creating strong moral fiber in youngsters. Many programs address the need from pre-K through fifth grade. Curriculums like 8 Keys of Excellence or CHARACTER COUNTS! The Six Pillars of Character are just two of many terrific programs being used. Programs created for middle school and high school can benefit older students in the same way.

Big Brothers and Sisters boasts that 89% of kids in their program improve their ability to avoid risky behavior. Teammates, (a Nebraska and Iowa organization) uses the slogan “Together We Transform Lives.” Both organizations are wonderful resources for kids who need a positive mentor in their life and both have strong foundations in character development.

Teaching, often the best way to learn

We strengthen our own character every time we teach our children and grandchildren about good habits and good choices. We reinforce our beliefs every time we parent our children in a way that teaches them to embrace good choices like compassion and responsibility. As part of the Worthy Values First system, we encourage everyone to begin building their personal legacy of greatness beginning right now. How do we begin? It happens every time we do what Matthew Kelly calls “the next right thing.”

One way to build your legacy of greatness is to share your knowledge and help foster strength of character in others. Another possibility might be to become a mentor in one of the programs I mentioned. If you have employees, you can model your positive character strengths for them in the workplace on a daily basis. Never forget this; we can’t underestimate the ripple effect of a positive person anywhere in an organization. I highly recommend a wonderful little book called The Energy Bus. You can easily read it in an evening. And, I should mention the author is Jon Gordon, another one of my favorite “wise guys.”

Summing it up for now

Finally, I’d like to assert that character building is one of the noblest ambitions we can possibly embrace. I think each one of us wants to believe that we matter. And, we want to think that when our life ends, we’ll leave our footprint on the world in some way. Now, I want you to think about the people you’ve known and admired in your life. What sort of traits did they have and what was it that left such an impression on you? I’d be willing to bet you held them in high regard because of the way they lived out their strengths day after day.

I must ask, what better legacy can we leave than a great reputation? Our 16th president was a man who left a legacy of greatness crafted through years of dedication to his beliefs. Here is what he had to say on the subject:“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” ~Abraham Lincoln

Next time, we’ll drill down and study more about some specific traits we want to develop in our children, our businesses, our communities and most of all, ourself!


    • Betty Streff

      Thanks John! You have no idea how much comments mean to a blogger. 🙂 I admire your work with Teammates very much!

  • Grant Newbold

    Dear Blog Reader. As Betty wrote in this blog post, in our system of Worthy Values First one of the underlying themes is “Become Your Best.” When Betty and I were developing our system it went through many revisions and one of those was that we started with “Be Your Best.” While that may sound ok it really implies that you can arrive and then just have to “be.” Betty and I often talk about process rather than outcomes as what we should focus on and in the area of character, process is just a critical as other areas of our lives. That is why we changed the wording from “Be Your Best” to “Become Your Best.” That may seem like a very minor change but I believe it makes a very big difference. Thanks for reading this blog and please consider making a comment as it helps all of us a lot when you do. Also consider becoming a subscriber to our blog and receiving our Summary pdf. Talk to you again soon. Doc Newbold.

    • Betty Streff

      Grant makes a good point. Sometimes a subtle change in the way we express our thoughts in words makes a big difference.

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