Developing Character and Promoting Virtue (2)

Posted on August 22, 2017

Last month I wrote that the School is giving serious thought to how we might clarify and elevate the priority that we give to developing character and virtue in the students at St Paul’s School. The importance of character development as an element of the education of young people has been accepted for many years. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535-475 BC) probably started it: he is credited with the quote – “Character is destiny”.

U.S. Senator John McCain developed this idea in his 2005 book, ‘Character is Destiny’, in which he said – “It is your character, and your character alone, that will make your life happy or unhappy. That is all that really passes for destiny. And you choose it. No one else can give it to you or deny it to you. No rival can steal it from you. And no friend can give it to you. Others can encourage you to make the right choices or discourage you. But you choose.”

McCain’s quote above includes two big ideas that are central to my approach to pastoral care and behaviour management. The first is that happiness, peace, joy and contentment are more dependent on our inner life than our outward circumstances. And the second is that all of us get to choose our attitudes, behaviours and response to circumstances.

I guess what McCain doesn’t mention is the other big idea that shapes my thinking about destiny, and that is the centrality of a relationship with God in our search for meaning and a life of flourishing. In the Bible we certainly find lots of wisdom in this area –

“….we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5: 3-5)

 No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6: 43-45)

For now, let me share with you the virtues which have been selected, in keeping with our Christian traditions, as the basis of a Character Framework for the students at St Paul’s School.

Virtue Definition
Compassion & Kindness Caring about the needs and feelings of others; treating others in the way you would like to be treated
Honesty & Integrity Speaking and doing what is right at all times, no matter what the consequences
Patience, Perseverance & Resilience Waiting for a desired outcome, without complaining or giving up, even if the present circumstances are difficult
Diligence Striving to achieve your best; demonstrating a great work ethic
Loyalty & Faithfulness Constant and true in your dealings with the friends, teams, organisations and leaders you have committed to
Humility & servant-heart Having a modest view of your own abilities and importance; courteously respectful of others; prepared to deny your own desires for the sake of another
Courage Strength to do what is right, in the face of fear, loneliness, pain or grief
Respect Treating other people – their feelings and time, as well as their property and beliefs – as though they have value; care for the environment and earth’s resources

In my next newsletter article, I plan to outline how these virtues will form the basis of a revised Code of Conduct for students. In the meantime, I welcome any feedback on the thoughts I have shared.

Nigel Grant

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