The Pillars that maketh a man

- Article By Michelle Lek
Why do some people grow up to do things right, while some falter into the pits? The answer lies in their character.

So how does character come about? It stems from one‚€™s values‚€”the values one is ingrained with shape his attitude, which in turn affects his character. This character then explains why a person does what he does (ie, behavior).

In this world of diverse cultures, there are endless values that a person can uphold to. However, they all can fold into six root values. In 1992, the Josephson Institute, an American nonprofit organisation that develops services and materials to increase ethical practices, convened the ‚€˜Six Pillars of Character‚€™ as guiding principles for a person‚€™s ethical thoughts and actions. These six core values are: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

I will briefly explain these six values.

This value, which is probably the hardest among the six to define, encompasses other values like loyalty, reliability and honesty. When a person trusts another, the former expect the latter to meet his expectations without having to be at the person‚€™s heels.

The Golden Rule‚€”do unto others as you would have them do unto you‚€” that has flowed through human civilisation for a long time, is the guiding principle of ‚€˜respect‚€™. However nasty others may be, there is never a good reason to treat others the way one does not want to be treated. Values like tolerance and courtesy fall under this category.

When one is responsible, he accounts for his actions and their consequences. Learning to answer for what one does can guide him in making sound decisions.

Being fair is being impartial and putting away biases. This is a value hard to abide by because people are susceptible to their subjective viewpoints.

When one thinks about the welfare of others, one is being caring. According to Josephson Institute, the highest form of caring is the honest expression of benevolence or altruism. When one is truly caring, he does not expect anything in return for what he gives out.

This value is about how to exist as part of a larger community. By following laws and shared codes of conduct, one upholds the value of citizenship. Citizenship also involves being aware of social issues and contributing to the community‚€™s goals.

Understandably, character is built from young so care givers should start teaching these values in the early stages of children‚€™s life. Parents and educators need to make a conscious effort to drive these values in the early stages of their children‚€™s life, so that the foundation is sturdy enough to stay with and guide them in making ethical decisions for a lifetime.

That said, it is never too late to start inculcating these values in you‚€”this is what lifelong learning is about.

We make ethical decisions every day and we sometimes may not know we are doing it; even a decision to throw rubbish on the floor or in a dustbin 10 metres away from you is an ethical one. In this instance, by doing the latter, one does not contribute to the society‚€™s goal of keeping the public space clean and hence, does not uphold the value citizenship.

However, the situation is not always so straightforward. Say, at work, should one seize a chance for promotion by causing someone else to lose his job? There is no hard and fast answer to a case like this and the outcome boils down to the guiding principles of the decision maker. If he considers the Golden Rule when deciding, he is already utilising the Six Pillars framework to guide himself.

By this article, I want people to know that by building the six strong pillars in themselves or their children, they lay the foundation of decision-making when faced with difficult decisions, which might shape one‚€™s destiny. Making such decisions requires the ability to make a distinction between competing choices. This foundation seeks to provide a blueprint, and is the basis of ethically defensible decisions and the foundation of well-lived lives.

Often, I have pondered over how Singapore‚€™s former pornographic actress veered into such a career given that she was born and raised here. Moreover, she is a brilliant girl with outstanding academic achievements. Hers is an exceptional case of waywardness in this country with conservative values.

People often have to make decisions under economic, professional and social pressure. This is certainly true in her case. She was in a foreign country which embraces freedom, individuality and free-spiritedness. And because her pillars of values were not properly laid, in that moment of temptation, she made decisions based on 'wants".

That is why it is necessary to know principles that can guide us. No one can simply read about ethics and become ethical, of course. Inculcating values in people involves more than the regurgitating of theories. We learn best from examples and experiences that are constantly reinforced in our minds.

Evidently, the Six Pillars are concepts which even adults sometimes find difficult to comprehend, let alone children.

Hence, each Pillar should be broken down, tackled and explained in detail so that the meaning behind each value is well-understood. This structured curriculum will help us rationalise our decision.

For this reason, Elite Business Sphere strongly believes in using a strategic combination of theories, hands-on activities and real life examples during our Character Development workshops for both adults and children.

These complex values are, well, complex, so we keep activities light, simple and fun for children: engaging them in a game of Jenga illustrates ‚€˜trustworthiness‚€™ while putting a fresh egg in their care teaches them ‚€˜responsibility‚€™; telling a story with a strong message works too.

In order for ethical messages to be effective, care givers should also be consistent in what they say and, more importantly, practice what they preach.

Keep in mind that whether for good or ill, change is always just a decision away. As members of the society, our role is to see that life gets better not only for ourselves but also the people around us. Being a mother myself, I believe all parents want our children to be able to choose wisely and correctly so that their future remains bright.

Rome was not built in a day, so isn‚€™t character. Be patient when building values and at the end of the day, we can shape a pleasant society for ourselves and the future generations.

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