Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Doing the Right Thing Because it is the Right Thing to Do

Helping Others to Build Character © Katrena
I am routinely awed by a group of people who come to my senior group exercise classes. Many of them have exercised on a regular basis for years, maybe even decades. They don't expect a t-shirt, name on the board, points, or other prizes. They tend to be gracious with instructors, schedules, and the facility itself. They are simply there for their health and want to do what they can to continue to function physically. These participants may apologize to me if they have to miss a class because of a doctor's appointment or some other important engagement. Some may shake with Parkinson's or walk with a limp while others may have just lost a spouse or have just completed rehab after a fall. They come regardless...because they feel that it is the right thing to do.

The Sliding Slope of Being Slack

Somewhere down the line, that mentality seems to be eroding. One of my kids looked at me after I asked her to do something and said, "So, what are you going to give me if I do it?" Her school offers rewards for good behavior. My response of "A big hug and a kiss!" didn't seem particularly appealing to her, so I met her eyes and simply said, "Because I want you to learn how to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do." That reward was not her first choice, but perhaps it will be more lasting.

Sure, rewards have their place, and I feel that it is very important to notice when someone makes the extra effort or good choices. But is the carrot always necessary? Are we setting up future generations for failure and disappointment? Very few employers regularly honor the employee that has faithfully served for fifteen years...on the contrary, a newly hired inexperienced co-worker who only stays a few months might enjoy a higher starting salary than the veteran employee's salary after many years of service. Families probably won't offer a standing ovation if you serve a healthy meal and wash the dishes. Choosing not to cheat on an online class might result in a much lower grade than another student who looked up all the answers.

The government, employers, and school system can only go so far. Someone can always find a loophole for lax behavior, and rules are often made to favor special interests. Just ask my sister, who was recently bitten by a neighbor's dog that was not vaccinated. People get away with abuse every day because they know they can blackmail others and work the system. Those who are internally motivated to do the job correctly the first time may never be fully rewarded externally...but I do see glimmers of hope.

Work Ethic Passed Down Through Generations - Photo by Tom Stefanac at Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps a Glimmer of Hope?

I posted group project grades this week for one of my online classes. Many of the grades were probably lower than students expected. I noticed a student name in my email inbox the day after posting those grades and opened it with a bit of dread. The student thanked me for the detailed critique and mentioned planning to use that learning experience to improve efforts for future assignments and classes. The student had nothing to gain from that email...other than my respect.

I have much respect for an entire generation of folks who tend to work hard, be very stoic and responsible, take on responsibilities when others may shirk them, and value honesty. Many of these people know what a chamber pot is and know how to pick cotton. They could probably live for ten years on the same amount of money that some others waste in a single year.

Older Generation Has Much to Offer to Younger Generation © Katrena
My dad used to grin at me and say "It builds character, Katrena" when I was challenged by roadblocks in my life. That phrase used to irk me so much as a child, but I guess it is starting to become a bit more palatable to me now. May each of us learn to develop a powerful work ethic and satisfaction of a clear conscious that we can do our very best even when no one is looking...and encourage those character traits in those around us.

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