Shannon and I were talking the other day about parenting. We were talking about what kinds of things we want to try to train into our son, and what kinds of values we would want him to have. We were wondering for the ump-teenth time what he will be like, and what his interests will be. Will he like sports? Will he be interested in science? Will he be musical, artistic, a writer? Shannon and I were both quite academic in nature growing up, and so one of us made the comment that it might be challenging for us if our child wasn’t academic. How will we encourage him to reach his full potential, yet not punish him or make him feel bad for bringing home a C on his report card if he tried his best and just had a hard time in that subject?
And then, Shannon said something that I thought was very profound, and that I’ve been thinking about for several days. She said, “What if we were to reward character over acheivement?” That totally clicked with me. Although we would want to celebrate if our son gets an A in some class, why not get even MORE excited if he stood up for a friend who was being picked on, even if it wasn’t popular? Why not give “gold stars” not just for doing chores around the house, but for the attitude with which they are done? Why not recognize hard work and diligence, even if the results aren’t quite what had been hoped for? Why not make it ok to fail, as long as you are doing things honestly and with integrity? Why not get the most excited, give the most praise, and give the highest rewards to the things that really matter?
My sense is, that could totally turn our son’s value system up-side-down from that of the culture’s around us – in a good way! He wouldn’t cheat to try to get a better mark, because it’s honesty that counts more than the grades. He wouldn’t feel worthless or like he had done something wrong if he failed at a project or an endeavor, because success isn’t what matters most. He wouldn’t feel that the ends justify the means, because the way you get somewhere really does matter.
This was especially challenging to me lately because I’ve been reading the book “Outliers”, by Malcom Gladwell. It’s been a fascinating read about what makes someone rise above the crowd to be exceptionally successful. He mentions a number of examples where particular upbringings or parenting styles provided children with a tremendous advantage in becoming an “outlier”. And, I find myself thinking, I want to do those things to give my child the best chance at success. I want him to stand above the rest! And yet, as much as success is great, I have to remind myself, what really matters? What do I have as my definition of success?
In the end, I believe that character does matter over acheivement. Why? Because I believe that’s the value system God has. We usually ask God to remove the problems we have in life, but I’m starting to understand that they are often tools He is using to refine our character. Think of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13. If I can speak in the tongues of men and angels, or have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries, or even if I give all I have to the poor, but I don’t have love, I’ve gained nothing. The character and motivation behind our achievements is perhaps the only thing that counts!
And so, my hope and prayer is that by rewarding character over acheivement, we’ll be able to instill that value in our son as well.