We live in an exhibitionistic, self-aggrandizing, and self-indulgent society. It’s also largely an everyone for himself or herself society. It’s hard to become a conscientious, obligated, civil, and generous person in such an environment.
Behaving in a decent and civil manner doesn’t mean we have to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of or abused. It just means we don’t have to act like we believe we’ve been treated. Rather, we should act like we would want to be treated.
Over the years I’ve counseled many individuals whose life became a shipwreck because they never gained mastery over their aggression. Sometimes they were overt about it. Other times, they were covert in their aggression (for manipulative purposes). Either way, they made a mess of their relationships and brought untold pain into the lives of many. For these individuals, acquiring the controls necessary to assert as opposed to aggress was truly the task of a lifetime.
Mindfulness as a character quality is more than a particular practice like meditation. It’s a state of being and a way of living. Being mindful is about keeping ourselves maximally aware of both our inner world and the outer world, as well as the impact of our choices on those worlds. To be of sound character, one has to be mindful.
Narcissism is pathological self-love. And noble character is largely about healthy self-love. Getting the balance right is what the third commandment of sound character formation is all about.
All of us need to do a much better job of helping our children develop healthy self-esteem. Parents especially need to be mindful of this. And that doesn’t mean giving our children ego-boosts all the time. Rather, it means helping them develop a properly balanced sense of self-worth.
People who have overcome their infantile narcissism and have learned to care beyond themselves are altruistic and empathic. And people who are altruistic act for the greater good. They are the folks who see the big picture.
Teaching the important life lessons necessary to overcome our natural, inherent narcissism and making sure the environment supports and reinforces those lessons is a significant challenge, especially in a culture where people who glorify themselves get mounds of attention and are even held up as heroes.
It was once widely believed that children naturally move toward positive growth unless they experience trauma of some type. But we now know that what doesn’t happen in the way of learning certain crucial life lessons is just as important to good character development as the tragic events that might beset a person and arrest or impede their character formation. And that’s what prompted me to catalog what my experience has taught me are the 10 essential “commandments” of good character development.
If there were ever a time when character really needs to be mindfully nurtured, it’s now – in our age of permissiveness, entitlement and moral relativism. And the same lessons we need to learn as children to become adults of integrity are the lessons we need to even more fully embrace and master at and even deeper level as we mature in order to become the best version of ourselves.