Monday, September 14, 2009


The sixth and last pillar of the Character Counts program is Citizenship. This means:

• Do your share to make your school and community better
• Cooperate
• Get involved in community affairs
• Stay informed; vote
• Be a good neighbor
• Obey laws and rules
• Respect authority
• Protect the environment

Citizenship is such a large part of a person's character, that there is often a place on scholarship forms to list community participation and school activities.

As I look back over the last week of blog topics from the Character Counts program, I realize how important these qualities are. We are judged by our character and we judge others by theirs.

A case in point is my neighbor. He's a middle-aged man who is obsessed with his yard. He waters, then mows, then waters, then mows. He uses herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and probably some other "cides" I don't know about. His yard is beautiful. His character isn't.

I have a beautiful pine tree that sets back about ten feet from the lot line. The lower branches extended into his yard. About two years ago, he cut those branches off. Worse, he cut them off at the trunk of the tree on my property. He recently started cutting branches off another tree, again at the trunk. Of course, I had to confront him about this. Now I feel that I have to check my trees regularly because I can't trust him to leave them alone. This speaks to the "trustworthiness" of his character.

The second quality of character is respect, the "do unto others" part. I can imagine that he would be quite angry if I started cutting branches off his trees. He becomes very angry over many things. When we placed mulched leaves under the pine tree to cut down on weeds and fertilize the tree, he was livid. He demanded to know why we were doing that, that the leaves were going to blow into his yard. Since there is no sidewalk, people walk through his yard and he yells at them. He has even chased teenagers down the street swearing at them because they have walked through his yard. This speaks to the "respect" part of his character.

Responsibility is the third quality. This means using self-control and considering consequences before you act. Fairness means being open-minded, not taking advantage of others, and not blaming others carelessly. Caring is about being kind, compassionate, and feeling gratitude. And then there is citizenship...being a good neighbor and protecting the environment.

So, have I judged this man based on his character? Yes, I have. Is it right that I should do this? Maybe not, but I think we all do this. That is why it is so important to teach the values of good character to children when they're young. These qualities will follow the child throughout his or her life and they will be judged on those qualities.

Character will determine the kinds of friends a person has, the kind of job a person gets, the kinds of activities and interests a person will have, and the kind of neighbor that child will grow up to be.

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