The ‘Ten Commandments’ of Character Development, Number Two: Strive to Be Grateful

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Dr Simon’s series continues with the second of ‘ten commandments’ of character development: strive to be grateful.

In my last post, I addressed the importance of being mindful of one’s impact on others and stressed how crucial it is for character development to overcome our inherent self-centeredness. (See “The ‘Ten Commandments’ of Character Development, Number One”.) But if we’re to develop sound character, it’s equally important to have a sense of gratitude for the blessings of life — indeed for life itself. Hence, the second of ten “commandments” of character development:

Strive to be truly grateful for the many gifts you’ve been given. Regard life and the miracle of creation with appropriate awe and appreciation. Gratitude will enable you to develop an appropriate sense of indebtedness and obligation to value, preserve, and promote life and to respect all aspects of creation. (Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), Chapter 4)

Ours is an “age of entitlement.” Almost everything once regarded as a privilege is now regarded by many as an inherent right. Many people have come to expect far more than they feel obliged to give. The result of this dominant feature of modern culture has been disastrous for the character formation of our children.

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In my work over the years with disordered characters, I have always been impressed with how little regard they showed and how little a personal price they seemed willing to pay for the most valuable things in life. It’s in the very nature of disordered characters to want something for nothing and to want to give the least for what should rightfully cost the most. In my work with the most disturbed characters, especially those with criminal backgrounds and who spent many of their years incarcerated, “respect” is one such commodity.

It’s hard to imagine anything more valuable than the respect of one’s peers or society in general. And, there was a time when it was generally accepted that respect is something to be “earned.” Yet, many of the most deeply troubled individuals I’ve counseled expected unconditional respect, felt entitled to lash out when denied it, and often tried to falsely gain “instant respect” at the point of a gun. Now, it’s true that every human being ought to be afforded civil, humane, and decent treatment. But respect is something else. As with every single other thing of any real value in life, it ought to be earned.

Cultural norms play a big role in determining what kinds of things are worthy of respect. There was a time when a person’s integrity of character took precedence over how rich they’d become, how politically well-connected they are, or how talented they are. These days, however, it’s not uncommon to lavish recognition, praise and other rewards upon those who bring a valued talent to the table — with indifference as to whether they are a person of laudable character.

The neurotics among us have worked hard to better the human condition. And, as a result, it’s easy for us to take many of the things we have for granted. But all these things came with a price of human toil, sweat, and sacrifice. And appreciating all these things is difficult in a culture that promotes a sense of entitlement. Nonetheless, no one develops a respect for and a willingness to accept the crucial obligations in life unless they find a healthy balance between what they feel the world owes them and what they owe the world. Neurotic parents, teachers, lawmakers, and various advocates have no doubt had good intentions in striving to improve things, but they have also often unwittingly sent messages to our children that almost everything is simply to be expected as opposed to appreciated and worked for.

I have always confronted the incessant whining of my character-disordered clients with the reality that there really are no entitlements. Life itself is a miraculous gift. The command for character-correction is simple: Strive to be grateful. Gratefulness will lead to a sense of indebtedness. That will lead to accepting the important obligations of life instead of expecting things handed to you.

Oh, and to all you neurotics out there: Please quit giving away all the really valuable things you’ve managed to earn. It diminishes their value and undermines the character development of our children.

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