4 February 2019

Don't leave the development of character to chance

The beginning of the new academic year brings with it an opportunity to reflect on the year passed and set goals for the year ahead. While many of the boys in Year 11 and 12 spent time discussing and planning goals for the year ahead as part of the conferences held in the first week of term, many of these goals were related to improved academic achievement or the co-curricular and sporting programme. For example, to turn a C in one subject into a B, receive an Academic Excellence certificate, achieve a certain ATAR, Diploma score or a certificate qualification. Similarly, boys may have set goals in the co-curricular area. To be selected in a Firsts team, play in the Big Band or perform in a drama production for the first time. Goals are important in setting the direction for the year ahead but too often are limited to what we want to do, not who we want to be.

It is the enduring virtues related to character that many of us hold higher than those career related virtues of skills, knowledge and external achievements and yet many of us have a clearer understanding on how to achieve career success than we do on how to develop character.

Character is not formed by simply following rules or following your heart, it takes a concerted, repeated effort for actions to become habits. With this in mind, the boys are encouraged to set goals that include the type of person they would like to be. Examples of character virtues may include:

Show gratitude for the things and people around you. Be alert to the positive experiences and opportunities in your life and thankful to the people around you.

Be kind. Helping others, asking if someone is okay or giving your time to assist someone else is a simple yet powerful thing to do in improving the lives of others.

Be other people centred. We live a society that promotes a self-centred approach to life, where facebook, twitter and conversations are dominated with the word "I". Listen more and talk less, especially about yourself. Below is an extract from a book, 'The Road to Character' by David Brooks that highlights how values have changed.

Of the 23 men and women who served in Dwight Eisenhower's cabinet, only one, the secretary of agriculture, published a memoir afterward, and it was so discreet as to be soporific. By the time the Reagan administration rolled around, twelve of his thirty cabinet members published memoirs, almost all of them self-advertising.

When the elder George Bush, who was raised in this era, was running for president, he, having inculcated the values of that era, resisted speaking about himself. If a speechwriter put the word "I" in one of his speeches, he'd instinctively cross it out. The staff would beg him: You're running for president. You've got to talk about yourself. Eventually they'd cow him into doing so. But the next day he'd get a call from his mother. "George, you're talking about yourself again, " she'd say. And Bush would revert to form. No more I's in the speeches. No more self-promotion.

Boys are urged to think about the type of person they want to be and commit to these behaviours daily. Don't leave the development of character to chance.

Dr Rob McEwan Head of Senior School