Introducing the first of ‘ten commandments’ of character development: recognizing your impact on the world around you.
My last post (see “Disturbances of Character, Part 2: Socialization is a Process”) introduced the notion that no one is born “civilized” and that socialization and the development of character are delicate and intricate “processes” that begin early and generally last a lifetime. This article is the first in a series that will address the critical life lessons that must be learned for a person to develop sound character.
In my soon to be released book, Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), I introduce what I call the “ten commandments” of character development. Each represents a crucial principle of living that must be not only learned but taken to heart and deeply internalized if a person is to function in a truly responsible manner. The following is the first of these “commandments:”
You are not the center of the universe. Rather, you are but a part of something more vast, complex, and wondrous than you can even imagine. You inhabit space with many other persons, creatures, and objects of creation. So, despite your tendency to think so, it’s definitely not all about you. Be mindful of how you, your desires, urges, and most especially your behavior impact everyone and everything else that exists and conduct yourself with both caution and concern for the impact of your very presence on the rest of creation.
Psychologists of various theoretical alignments have known for some time that self-centered narcissism is an inherent characteristic of human beings right from birth. Children naturally see themselves as the center of things and even view others as extensions of themselves until they learn otherwise. Teaching the important lessons necessary to overcome this inherent narcissism and making sure that the environment supports and reinforces those lessons is a significant challenge, especially in our modern narcissistic culture.
Two years ago I was blessed with my first grandchild. As hard as it has been for me not to see him as the center of my own universe, I can only imagine how hard it is for him to learn about his place in the world, his impact on it, and how getting the balance right between his need of others and others’ needs of him is as crucial to his own welfare as it is to the welfare of all. Just the other day, he came up to me and gave me a big hug. Naturally, I melted. Within seconds, however, he also bit deeply into my arm. When he did, he just looked at me and smiled. Despite my initial shock and undoubted expression of pain, he had no real clue about the ramifications of what he had done. He trusts that I love and care for him. And he meant me no harm. He only wanted to gratify an urge, and he has no knowledge yet about why gratifying such an urge in the way he did could not only injure others but ultimately be detrimental to his own well-being. He has to learn about such things. Grandpa (and others) must carefully and daily teach him that Grandpa is a person like he is and has feelings, concerns, and urges just like he does. He also has to learn that grandpa is not just an extension of him or an “object” to simply “use” as he wishes. He has to learn all sorts of things about his relationship to his grandfather and to the rest of the world, and teaching all these things is difficult and challenging.
In my last post, I made the point that for a long time traditional psychology paradigms pointed to traumatic things that happened in people’s early lives as the “cause” of their later life misbehavior. But although trauma can indeed negatively impact a person’s life, many individuals fail to develop good character not so much because of what happened to them but because of what didn’t happen with respect to carefully learning the crucial lessons about how to live in a social world. And learning to overcome our inherent self-centeredness is a complicated process. It’s especially challenging in a social milieu in which “individual” worth is championed so highly that children have a hard time entertaining the notion that it’s not ultimately all about them. It’s tempting for parents to assume that daily life will simply teach children these lessons. But because of the dominant values and principles promoted by modern culture, assuming this is more dangerous than ever, and the need to provide proper guidance could not be greater. Parents are more often in a battle with the dominant values of the culture for which values will actually take root in and be adopted by their children. And some of a child’s innate predispositions might make learning the necessary lessons more difficult. But learning the lessons is crucial. Many of our more pressing “big-picture” problems such as resource depletion and global pollution would not even be an issue if all of us had learned and taken to heart the principle outlined above.
Some disordered characters actually did manage to learn somewhere along the way that they and their behavior impact others. In fact, they might be very well aware of the extent to which some of their behavior negatively impacts others. While they’re aware, however, many simply don’t care. So, learning the principle above is insufficient in itself to developing sound character. Other principles must also be learned. And taking the principles to heart and internalizing them is yet another matter. Subsequent posts will take a look at some of the other essential “commandments” of sound character development.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by