I had just finished speaking to a group of parent educators when a mom approached me. “I don’t think it really matters whether my children master any of their academics. My son isn’t very academically inclined. I’m mostly just interested in his character.”
“How will you help them grow in character?” I asked, genuinely interested.
“Well, uh, I’ll teach my son to be nice to his sister.”
“Good start,” I replied. “What other character traits would you like to see him demonstrate as he grows up?”
She thought a minute. “Well, perseverance…and follow through…and respect.”
We continued talking. She began to see that every character trait that mattered to her is taught by encouraging our children to do hard things. Learning chores, playing new instruments or new pieces of music, acquiring new sports abilities, and exploring new academic concepts all challenge our children to persevere, follow through, respect their coaches and teachers, and have patience when waiting for help. Every teaching moment can further competence and character — when the teacher or coach values them both.
James addressed this concept in his letter to first century Jesus-followers:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. – James 2:14-17, NIV
Faith is a trait we associate with Christian character. But it is not enough to say we have faith and not to act on it. The acting out of our faith requires competence. Raising our kids and educating our students requires coaching them to act out of their faith. It means they will know how to do what they are supposed to do when it is time to do it. And they will be willing to do it.
Lawyer, speaker, and author of the New York Times best-selling book Love Does, Bob Goff writes about this concept. He describes love in action. We express our love for God by loving people well. And we love people well by doing. Love, like all character traits, is unseen until we act. The acting takes competence.
Our kids must pursue competence to build character. Otherwise, where is character required?
What are some ways you integrate competence and character in your home?
Dr. Teresa M. Moon is President and CEO for the Institute for Cultural Communicators. She empowers extraordinary leaders globally to influence culture. Her mentees have spoken at the White House, G8 Summit, United Nations, throughout the United States and in 20-plus additional countries. She is an internationally recognized speaker, author and leadership coach.