Thursday, July 19, 2012

Preventing Erosion

I am continually amazed at the common sense of children. Yesterday, in a discussion about wants and needs with the children at Daily Bread Cooking Camp, one soon-to-be fifth grader rolled her eyes and said, "It's like a mansion. Everybody wants one but nobody needs one." Out of the mouths of babes. . .

There was also a decision at camp about who got to go first for a specific activity. I turned it over to the kids who had lively discussions within their groups of four and ultimately chose, without tears or counselor intervention, who would go and who would wait. They could do this because they trusted they would get their turn.

I sometimes made my kids choose their own punishments. My girls were almost always harder on themselves than I would have been. They didn't like having to choose their own consequences, but when faced with the challenge usually judged themselves quite fairly.

At some point human beings learn to rationalize. Once that happens, the innate fairness, trust, and honesty that kids have starts to erode. Erosion is a character issue. It's also a "natural" issue. Consider soil erosion; left unprotected soil will wash away in the rains or blow away in the winds. Two things can slow or stop the erosion: strengthening the soil's "hold" and creating barriers to the eroding factors. If we want to keep soil from blowing or washing away we plant vegetation like ground cover or grasses so the roots will help hold the soil in place and build windbreaks like trees or fences that will keep the wind from blowing away the soil you want to protect.

Those same methods, creating a root system and building windbreaks, can work to protect character. Building a root system is having a strong community for your children: a community with common values, woven together by culture, memory, and connections. For my family our church has served this purpose well. Some people live surrounded by family and have their own built in root system. Any community will work, as long as your community is authentically rooted, and not merely superficial.

The institutions around our kids serve as the windbreaks: the churches, schools, sports clubs, camps, and musical groups can all help to prevent character erosion. If these institutions value fairness, are trustworthy, and not punitive, your child's innate systems will be protected. If there is favoritism or exclusiveness, your child's innate values may begin to erode. How are your kid's windbreaks performing?

I don't want to romanticize children into fantasy creatures. There are values beyond fairness that are not innate and need to be taught, but like the protective vegetation that ultimately dies and further nourishes the very soil it protected, and the tree that drops its leaves, which also serve to nourish and protect, and even the snow that covers or the rain that soaks - all of these things change the soil for the better. Your anti-erosion systems will do more than protect your child's character; they will nourish it, and help your child grow in the face of challenge or hardship. The communities and institutions will even create the situations where your child's character can be further formed.

We all have communities and institutions in our lives. Are they helping you protect and nurture your child's character?

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