Volunteering with Younger Students

One of the great things about having good character is that it begets better behavior; it can be practically contagious. When other people see you standing talland behaving admirably, theytend to think twice about their actions as well. The more they practice treating people in this manner, the more of a habit it will become. It can be especially beneficial to younger students. Whether you work as a teacher’s assistant, tutor, or volunteer with an organization, setting a worthwhile example can be a rewarding experience for both you and others.

It’s called the Golden Rule for a reason, right? When you are interacting with others and you show them fairness, respect, and compassion while continuing to maintain your integrity, other people will appreciate it and treat you in kind. When you hold others to those same standards, most of the time, they will rise to the occasion.This does not mean that you constantly point it out when others are wrong or make mistakes; that’s not good character.Instead, talk them through decisions before or afterward, and go over what went right as well as what went wrong. You can direct them toward other ways of thinking that may bring them to options they weren’t aware of before.

This also does not mean that you force others to act the same way as you—you can only be an example and encourage others to follow suit. Fortunately, most people want to do the right thing and have integrity.However, depending on their life experiences, they may not know how to go about it. That’s where you come in. You can be a patient and informative guide, showing them how to navigate through life in a way that will make them feel good about themselves and will set an example for those around them.

Sometimes, especially when you are volunteering, you may be working with children or students who have been largely ignored in the past. They may think that no one pays attention to them; they may even believe that what they do does not matter. They may never have seen the consequences of their actions, either because no one bothered to teach them to take responsibility or because they have never bothered to see the effects. You can show them a different way. You can teach them that there are ways to behave that will reflect positively on them, and why that matters. Guide them to make sound decisions even when things appear to be a lose-lose situation. You can help show them that they don’t always need to be just looking out for themselves, that they can reach out and benefit others as well.

You can be a beacon of light and ignite a fire in the people around you as well. Volunteering can be hugely rewarding, and we cannot recommend it enough. Put yourself out there. You will be surprised at the good you can do just by being yourself.


What Builds Character?

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In our quest to improve our character, we have learned a few lessons about ourselves. This has been a long journey. Sometimes the path is straight and clear, other times it is a steep and rocky climb. And sometimes we cannot see the path at all, but can only hope and guess that we are headed in the right direction. Here are a few things we have found to be true so far along our way:

We should not even try for perfection. It will only cause us sadness and heartache. We should also not expect the people around us to behave perfectly. We cannot hold people to a standard that we cannot reach, either.

We have also come to the realization that we are better off making mistakes. It will hurt—sometimes a lot—but it is how we learn and grow. It will give us resilience and the determination to try again. Additionally, if we did everything right all the time, we would never understand the need for compassion. You can only truly appreciate forgiveness when someone forgives you for a mistake you made or a wrong you committed against them. The words, “I forgive you,” can be a balm to the soul. However, you would never know the relief you feel, the guilt and grief that would otherwise be hanging over your head unless someone says it to you. Only then will you realize the value and power in those three little words.

Your life will not be without obstacles. Unfortunately, it is while trying to climb those obstacles that you will realize your inner strength. You don’t have to test something to know if it is strong, but it can be hard to believe what you are capable of until you actually have to rise to the occasion. The struggles we have in life also force us to change our way of thinking. Difficulties are challenges in disguise. You are forced out of your comfort zone. In order to solve problems, you need to think creatively to find a solution.

We have also learned that a way to strengthen character is by asking for and providing help. There are some amazing benefits. People naturally want to help, but often will not unless you ask. When you need help, ask for assistance from someone you love and trust. It will show them that you rely on them and they may be more willing to ask for your help when they need it in return. This will help you to learn faith in your fellow humankind as well as gratitude. Being thankful for what you have and the people around you is a great way to remind yourself of how blessed you are. It reinforces kindness, sharing, and empathy, all of which are excellent character-builders. Developing a support system will make life’s journey easier for you.

But the most important thing we have learned on our quest to become better people is to be patient. With ourselves as we go on this journey, with others who may not see things the same way we do, and the world at large. Standing tall as a good example will inspire others to do the same. It may not happen overnight, but be patient. This is a worthwhile endeavor, which means it will require work.


Ethical Career Choices

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When you are on the threshold of starting a career like we are, you may be wondering how to even begin making selections. We have all decided that we will be searching for careers that will allow us to maintain our good character and be ethical career choices. That may seem odd, but the idea is that by doing the work we have chosen, we will feel like we are making things better for those around us and also continuing to operate at the high ethical standards we have set for ourselves. A decision like this may look different for each person.

Take a store manager for example. A store manager with good character would treat everyone equally and with respect, handle the finances properly, and take excellent care of the customers, choosing the greater good of all involved over only profits. Another example could be a doctor. People feel especially vulnerable in situations like doctor visits when they’re sitting there in a paper gown or with potentially embarrassing symptoms, so as a doctor you might want to put your patient at ease instead of appearing judgmental when they come to you with a problem. It is simple things like this that can help you be better in your chosen field as well as being a better person. The two things do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Even something that may seem very clearly to have right and wrong decisions, like being a police officer or a judge, can still provide one with ethical dilemmas. The key is to evaluate each decision as it comes and not make assumptions based on your own experiences. There will always be people who do the wrong thing for the right reason and people who do the right thing for the wrong reasons. There will also be laws that you may feel are biased toward certain people or are completely unjust. You will have to decide between making decisions that are ethically right for you versus legally right. If you cannot make the two things agree, this field may not be for you.

When you are looking for a job, try to get a feel for the “corporate culture” of any prospective employer. Do they seem cutthroat? If you google them, do you see any evidence of unsavory business practices?Even companies who are supposed to be charitable organizations can be unscrupulous. The information can be hard to find, so you may want to go to the interview prepared with your own questions. Find out what the average turnover rate is. If people are typically there for only a short time, that could be a bad sign. Ask about what behaviors are rewarded (for example, do people receive rewards individually for meritorious service, or does it get pooled together? Are there incentives to work harder?) and what their policy is on slow performance.

Trying to find a job that is fulfilling, has an acceptable salary and allows you to operate in an ethical manner sounds impossible, but with some work (and maybe some luck), you should be able to head down the right path!


It is Never Too Late

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Making ethical decisions is not something that comes naturally to people. You learn right from wrong as you grow up from all kinds of places: your family, your religious beliefs, your education, and your friends. Together with your life experiences, these influences have a profound effect on your decision making. These things also shape our views when we have to make choices that are not so clear cut. We may make those decisions based on past hurts, personal gain, or because we don’t see any other option.

The great thing about ethics is that you can start thinking ethically at any time. All you really have to do is want to improve both yourself and those around you. Decide what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be more altruistic and do more for others? Do you want to be more judicious in your decisions and make sure that you treat everyone more fairly? Do you want to restore the self-respect of those around you? What does treating people—including yourself—with respect look like to you? These are the kinds of questions that may come up as you try to better yourself. No one answer is right for everyone, and you can choose some of one thing and add something else as you go. It all depends on how you want to see yourself.

After you have an idea of the kind of person you want to be, you can start putting that ideal into practice. When a situation comes up and there is not aclear-cut decision to be made, stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish for yourself. For example, if you are at work and presented with two different bids for the same project and have to select one, how do you decide? If you want to treat people more fairly, would you pick one team over the other and then promise the team you didn’t select that it will be their turn next time? Would you try to combine the two bids into one so that everyone felt like they contributed a little? There are so many ways to look at a situation, and once you find one that you feel represents who you are trying to become, you know you have the right decision.

The last thing that we have found when you are trying to do things in an ethical way is to follow through with what you set out to do. It might be nice to think about doing and being better but you actually have to commit to putting in the work as well. If you tell people that you are going to treat them fairly, and then constantly choose the second-rate projects from your favorite employee, then you aren’t living up to your word. If you make a tough decision and complications arise, own them. Don’t try to deflect it onto someone else or try to sweep it under the rug. Don’t continue to find exceptions or loopholes to the ethical standard you have created for yourself.

You can do this! It’s never too late to start!


Better Decision Making

People make mistakes. It is in our nature. We don’t always do the right thing for any number of reasons. Sometimes we don’t know what the right thing to do is in a particular situation. Sometimes we know and it is just easier (or better) for us if we don’t. Other times, we do what we think is best and there are unintended consequences. Some seem good in the moment but hindsight reveals the path we should have taken instead. We make a lot of decisions over the course of a lifetime; not all of them are going to be the best choices.

Is there a way to try and avoid making mistakes in decision making?

This is a question we have been asking ourselves often. The answer is probably no, but there are ways to make your decisions BETTER than before. You may not always make the correct choice in the end, but if you feel that you have tried to do the best you can when you’re making decisions, even mistakes will be something you can learn from and not feel as guilty about. When you can’t find a right or wrong answer, you can think about things in an ethical manner. The method we have been taught in class can be done in five steps.

  1. Recognize that the decision you are facing is an ethical one. Decide that you are going to make the decision that is going to be the right one, regardless of your own personal stakes in the matter. Could your decision negatively affect someone? Are there legal consequences?
  2. Once you determine what the decision is really about, you need to be more informed. Be honest with what you know and try to find out anything else that might help you make the right decision. Talk to the people it might impact and get their take on the situation. Discover what your options are.
  3. Now that you have options, you need to evaluate them.Hopefully, by following this step, a pattern will emerge and you will start to eliminate the bad choices and be left with one good decision. Look at the options from all sides. You want to find the decision that will work best for all involved. You can also look at it from your point of view: which decision aligns with the person you want to be?
  4. Choose the option you feel best handles the situation. Imagine yourself having to defend this decision. Would it be hard to do, or would you feel good about it? If someone you admired asked you what you planned to do, do you think they would approve of what you have decided? If you feel confident at this point that you have come to the right decision, that is what you should do.
  5. After you have made your decision and seen the impact, reflect on what you have done. Did you achieve the outcome you were hoping for? If not, why not? Were there any unexpected consequences? Do you think you could or should have seen them coming? Did you learn anything as a result of this decision? Now that you know how it affected anyone involved, would you make the same decision over again? As you reflect on the choice you made, and you answer these questions honestly, you can put the things you learned toward the next decision and continue to make better choices as you go through life.

These steps may not apply if you are trying to figure out what movie to see or whether you want to purchase a blue couch or a brown one. But when you are faced with a decision and are not sure what to do, or if it will impact others, using the above steps may help guide you to the best choice.