Building Character

Building Character

Thursday, 3 March 2016  | Di - Assistant Principal - Primary
A lovely part of holidays is taking time out to catch up with friends and find out what they have been up to. My husband and I visited one of our close friends over the summer and during that time he shared an article that he had written and consequently had published in The Age last year.


I was struck by the relevance of this article to our school community, and so I asked him and The Age (Thursday February 5, 2015), if I could share it with you.

Please take the time to read this wonderful affirmation of parenting and education. It really helped me to refocus on the privileges and responsibilities we have in working together to raise children of character.

Published with permission from Brian
Assistant Principal - Primary

Build your kid’s character, don’t just give them stuff
I wasn’t quite sure why 2015 had a bit of a “ring” to it, and then the penny dropped: my father was born 100 years ago. Dad was a quiet man, and sometimes hard, though never unfair.

His mum died giving birth to his younger brother, and his father withdrew him from Scotch College at age 15 to work on a farm in 1930, the Great Depression.

Dad reported he had no refrigeration, only a cool safe, and had to flick the maggots off his meat before he ate it, reluctantly taking whatever protein was available.

He flew in the Second World War for three years and, unlike his best friend, survived to begin a new life back home.

Dad gave a short speech at my 21st birthday, recounting how he went in to town for his twenty first in a horse and buggy. Of course there were cars around in those days, but that was for rich people. He described how remarkably life had changed from when he was 21. Man had landed on the moon, successfully transplanted a man’s heart, and now pretty much everyone had a fridge. He was amazed and excited at the changes he had seen in 40 years, and asked the question of what life would be like when I gave a speech at my son’s 21st.

Did Dad have a special hunch? Rosemary, my wife, and I are blessed with three children, two girls, then a boy. At Andrew’s 21st I echoed dad’s theme, and listed some of the ways modern life had changed since I was his age: computers, mobile phones, the internet, air bags, ABS, and so it goes on. Life today is hardly recognizable from life back then.
I am not sure the important things ever change. Being kind, considerate, thoughtful, generous, knowing how to make a sacrifice, listening, exercising noble virtues of honesty and integrity, these things have always been important and always will be. It is a question of looking beyond the mere passing parade of technology and into the heart of the enduring values, the good oils that lubricate all personal relationships.

Dad and Mum, and Rosemary’s faith-inspired parents, modelled these virtues, and many others. They gave us a great deal, not stuff of the physical kind, but jewels of the personal kind. They transmitted good values by a sort of infectious osmosis, values that were caught, not just taught. And even when they did give us “stuff”, it was often created, not bought with dollars: knitting a jumper to personal specifications, or cooking a new meal, or making a shirt. A created gift is love exemplified. They knew how to love.

They also gave us a triad for healthy living. Firstly, a sense of value or dignity. Not the overinflated sense of importance or entitlement that can characterize some of the “me” generation, but a sense that we are all important and significant, that what we say and do matters.

Secondly, a sense of meaning. Our lives must have a sense of direction, or purpose, be goal directed in good ways. We need to be more than just travelling, but going somewhere, as well as know why.

Thirdly, a sense of belonging. It is important for us all to belong to, and be valued by, groups bigger than ourselves, for example, a family, a community, a church, a sporting club, a school or workplace. We all need a home and not just a house; that home might be more than the family of origin, but we need to be accountable to, and contribute to groups beyond and bigger than our own little nest.

A sense of belonging inoculates against the epidemic of our time: loneliness, a loss of connection. Thank you Mum and Dad for these fine gifts.

As a teacher I tried to give a love of learning for its own sake. Easier said than done. There is enormous societal pressure to learn for some gain, to get into this course or that, to earn a higher income, to rise above others in status or power. For me, one of the greatest gifts we can give youngsters is the love of learning in and of itself.
When we impart that special gift, we open up possibilities for lifelong adventure.

Some schools don’t teach a love of learning, believe it or not. But every parent can, by taking an interest from an early age, by asking open questions, by listening, by modelling an attitude of enquiry, by freely giving time, by being a genuine seeker, by pursuing understanding and not just facts.

We are saturated by a world preoccupied with things and stuff. But kids don’t care if there is a stain on the carpet, or a dent in the panel work. They want, and need love, expressed in many ways; unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, despite their shortcomings. We can invest in antiques, or shares, or property or image or whatever. But there are other forms of investment, in character, in relationships, and in what does not change.

What can any parent give their child? Lots of good things. Funnily enough, when we give, life has a way of giving back, in full measure, pressed down and running over. (Luke 6:38)

Brian 30/1/15

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