Developing Character and Promoting Virtue (3)

Posted on September 4, 2017

Last fortnight I shared that the School has selected eight virtues, in keeping with our Christian traditions, as the basis of a Character Framework for the students at St Paul’s School. I also suggested a definition for each of these virtues, which I plan to use in discussing them with students.

Sometimes, we can best understand what a thing IS by also considering what it IS NOT. To help our students to understand (and, hopefully, to choose) virtuous behavior, we will point out the way in which behaviours we sometimes see at school are incompatible with the virtues we are trying to develop –

Virtue Attitudes and Behaviours which are incompatible with this virtue
Compassion & Kindness Selfishness;  bullying; verbal abuse;  gossiping
Honesty & Integrity Lying; cheating; plagiarism; stealing; duplicity
Patience, Perseverance & Resilience Quitting; whinging
Diligence Laziness; settling for second-best; working only when closely supervised
Loyalty & Faithfulness Selfishness; letting the team down
Humility & servant-heart Arrogance; boasting; vanity; egotism; ‘pushing in’; calling out, or disruptive behaviour in class
Courage Cowardice; submitting to negative peer pressure; not stepping in to help another
Respect Lack of courtesy for teachers and peers; racism;  sexist behaviour or ‘joking’; vandalism; wastefulness

Central to a revised St Paul’s Code of Conduct is the belief that students choose their own behaviour: sometimes they make positive/wise choices and at other times they may make negative/unwise choices. Let me be clear, though: it would be a most rare and unusual child who was never in breach of our Code of Conduct. If your child is perfect, perhaps you would be good enough to give me a call and let me know!

In this context, there are two things that I would like all St Paul’s students and parents to understand. Firstly, students should be aware that all choices have consequences – including the choices we make about our behaviour. Positive behavioural choices are rewarded and negative behavioural choices result in sanctions.

However, crucially, students should also be aware that we (School and parents) are in the forgiveness business. We acknowledge that there has only ever been one perfect man. With St Augustine (and all orthodox theologians) we recognise that, no matter how hard we strive to live a virtuous life, we are incapable of achieving it. In the same way that plants will grow towards the light, Augustine observed that there is a “tropism towards sin at the centre of human personality”. That being the case, the Code of Conduct at St Paul’s will always (at least, as long as I am the overseer) have to be applied and interpreted in an atmosphere of grace. More on that next time.

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