We want many things for our children. We want them to grow up to be honest, ethical, kind, hard working, accomplished, upstanding community citizens, compassionate to others – just to name a few among a long list of other positive characteristics that we hope they will acquire while they are under our guidance. But if you had to pick just one, what would be the singular choice that you would magically wish upon your offspring, if it could only be one character trait?
My new son-in-law’s father has been promising some help to the young couple for months now, which up to this point has turned out to be just a lot of empty promises. You know the drill: all talk and no delivery. He has called on numerous occasions to say that tomorrow is the day, and disappoints repeatedly as tomorrow comes with nothing to show for it, not even an excuse or explanation about the lack of action. They have repeatedly made arrangements for the promised help, all for naught. At this point when he says he’ll do something, the automatic thought is, “Yeah right, I’ll believe it when I see it – it’s never going to happen with him.” And with no accountability on the bad behavior , the continuance is guaranteed. Oh, how can you reprimand a volunteer…?
We all know people like this, untrustworthy to their word to some greater or lesser degree – people you can’t count on when they say they’re going to do something. Some people need constant reminders to deliver. Others just have ‘bad memories’. Most just don’t prioritize what they agree or volunteer to do, and instead they live in the moment during the commitment time. Or perhaps a better option comes up and they blow off the prior commitment at will. In any case, throughout life people are left hanging by other people on numerous occasions.
The one character trait that children should acquire before they enter adulthood that surpasses all the others is to be a person who stands by your word. To be someone that can be counted on to deliver on promises, on doing what they say they will do, on showing up when they say they will – this is the trait of a ‘good’ person. This means saying no when you are overextended or overcommitted, which may be hard to do (we all want to be nice and agree to everything asked of us). The really ‘nice’ person doesn’t say yes and then not deliver. Habitually, so you become ‘that’ guy.
The best way to insure that this desirable trait is passed on is to model the behavior with your actions. Have you promised and not delivered (“Oh, I’m so sorry! I know I said we would do ____ today, but I got caught up at work…”, “Did I promise that? Oh, well, it’s not going to happen now, but there’s always next time>”, “I meant to get to your practice/recital/event but I lost track of the time…”)? The message to the child is 1) I’m not important, 2) it is acceptable to blow off your commitments and 3)Don’t count on you keeping your word – it’s OK to disappoint. Ouch!
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: The character trait of being honorable, that is, standing by your commitments is the trait that surpasses all others in desirably because it wraps several other traits into it. The honorable person is dependable, reliable, ethical, moral, kind, good, and honest in their actions. Raising honorable children that keep their word will make the world such a better place.