I find myself challenging adults to call students back to fundamentals today. It’s not that I’m against progress; technology is not going away and most of us don’t want it to. Our world is growing at a fast pace, and change always comes with growth. But I am concerned we adults are not helping young adults navigate their lives. We are losing what I consider to be timeless qualities. May I suggest four lost characteristics we need to be intentional about instilling in kids:
1. Vision – This is the ability to see a goal in the future before it is reached. A vision is a picture of a better tomorrow. Many students must simply envision themselves graduating; others must envision what their career might look like; or how a committed relationship would work in their lives. Those who are already self-actualized must see themselves adding value to the world. Vision is a blueprint for the future that prevents youth from merely existing; to keep them from maintaining instead of growing and improving.
2. Virtues – Virtues are character qualities that separate humans from animals. When animals fight, they don’t fight about who’s right or wrong, but who’s strong or weak. Remove virtues and people begin acting like animals. Ironically, the Greek root for “virtue” means strength. But it refers to moral strength. A person of virtue is honorable; they don’t act merely out of self-interest, as a reptile does when it seeks food to eat, but in the interests of others. People of virtue act with civility in the face of adversity; they can be poised because they act instead of react to situations.
3. Values – Values today are either lost altogether in young people or they are products of individual taste or personal convenience. Studies show that college students say anything can be right and values come and go. I believe we must instill a set of timeless values that govern conduct—values such as honesty, service, trust, character, dependability and so forth. Values are like a compass that reveals your true north: they’re the guardrails to keep you on the right road and the horsepower behind every major decision you make.
4. Valor – Valor is rarely spoken about today. It literally means strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness and personal bravery. The true mark of valor is the absence of indecision even in the face of death. In the past, we spoke of soldiers or knights who acted with valor. Today, I believe we need to regain this quality that empowers young people to have clarity about what must be done and the courage to act on it.
How Can You Cultivate Them?
Coaches can build these character traits using teams and sports as a platform. Teachers can do it using subjects, classrooms and service trips. Parents can develop them in their homes and by creating family experiences that spark them.
In your setting, how could you create environments and experiences where you begin developing these lost qualities in the students around you? Ask yourself:
- What contexts or people could I expose them to that would kindle vision?
- What needs could I help them spot that could entice them to serve?
- What conflict could I help them discuss and begin to cultivate values?
- What problem or crisis could I resource them to courageously address?
Do you see the need for these qualities? Are they irrelevant or too old-fashioned in our 21st century, postmodern world? Is it possible to build them in students today?
Let’s talk this over.
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