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WHY INSTILLING CHARACTER ISN'T IN CONFLICT WITH ENCOURAGING COMPETITIONPosted Monday, October 18, 2010, at 2:23 PM
What's more important - to be the best and win?
Or to be humble, and put yourself in the service of others?
Year ago, businesses looked for someone of 'good character' when they were hiring. Parents stressed moral values, and literature was filled with stories of honor and integrity.
Then at some point, the pendulum swung, and our culture began to emphasize winning over ethics.
Character and compassion took a back seat to accomplishment and achievement. Humility and caring were something you talked about at church, if at all.
Yet one need look no further than our current economic situation to see that when super smart, highly skilled people lack high moral character, they wreak absolute havoc on the rest of us.
So where did we go wrong? As a product of the women's movement, I was raised with the 'Go Girl' message: "You can do anything. Don't be afraid of competition. It's OK to stand out."
Yet when I read back to the letters Rose Kennedy wrote to her children, the lessons Laura Ingalls Wilder learned from her parents, and the values Louisa May Alcott explores in Little Women, I see a clear theme of character, of service, honesty, humility and compassion.
It's no coincidence that the young women who absorbed these lessons went on to accomplish great things. They're the same character traits at the center of most great men's lives.
I don't want to go back a time when women were supposed to be subservient. Or when children were seen and not heard. Or when people were expected to submit to authority no matter what the circumstances.
But I think we threw out the baby with the bath water.
People used to say they wanted to raise children of good character. Now parents are more likely to say they want to raise children who are successful and happy. It's a subtle but very important, and I believe, detrimental shift.
In our quest to win, we forgot that being the best isn't just about being the smartest, fastest, or the most skilled. It's also about having the character to make difficult decisions during times of struggle.
It's not about trying to balance inner morality with outer accomplishments; it's about maximizing both.
To those who might suggest that we have to choose between being competitive and being of good character, I say, bunk.
Imagine you're hiring someone for a key position. The choice comes down to two people. Both are super smart and super skilled. One tells you that they make decisions based on what's best for the bottom line. The other tells you they run all their decisions through the character lessons they learned from their depression-era grandfather.
Who would you rather have handling your payroll or computer system? Who do think will attract higher quality employees? Whom would your customer want you to hire?
The belief that competition and character are in conflict is a myth perpetuated by people who prefer shortcuts over hard work.
As a parent, I can assure you that I expect my daughters to succeed. I also expect them to be kind, loving, honest, humble and gracious. It's a tall order. But if we're smart enough to put a man on the moon, certainty we're smart enough to combine ethics and accomplishment.
Character isn't something you abandon in order to win. Good character is your competitive advantage.
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.
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