Another Parenting Passage 717.3

Have you seen the Subaru commercial where a father is giving a safety talk to his six-year-old sitting in the driver’s seat?* In that exasperated tone I’ve heard a thousand times, the little girl says, “Daddy, it’s okay.” Then, as dad hands his daughter the key with a final warning to drive carefully, she is replaced by a 16-year-old. I’m …

The Experimental Operation 717.2

Tess, an earnest 8-year-old, was worried. Her little brother was very sick and she overheard her mom crying on the phone: “They say his only chance is an experimental operation, but it isn’t covered by insurance and there’s no way we can pay for it.” Tess went to a jar containing all the money she had saved. Although she wasn’t …

Hang in There! It Will Get Better 717.1

While researching the bullying issue for a CHARACTER COUNTS! seminar, I came across Vicky Bell’s blog, where she posted a letter to her daughter in college. I think her advice moving and wise. Here’s an abridged version: Hello my girl . . . You may have heard about the NJ college student who killed himself because his roommate posted a …

Parenting and Play-Doh 716.5

Peggy Adkins, a talented CHARACTER COUNTS! trainer, tells the story of when she adopted a cat. Each of the cat’s original owners was interviewed, and when Peggy finally got the animal, she had to sign a document that listed 23 things to do and 17 things not to do to raise a happy, healthy feline. Over the next several months, …

It’s Okay to Keep Your Elephant Happy 716.4

Yesterday I introduced Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of our rational self as a Rider sitting atop an Elephant, the larger, more powerful emotional self. Sometimes the Rider is the pilot directing the Elephant, but often the Elephant is in control, making the Rider a passenger. Scientific literature on how people change tells us that unless we motivate the Elephant – arguments …

The Rider and the Elephant 716.3

It took me a long time to realize the limitations of logic. For much of my life, including a 20-year stint as a law professor, I relied on discourse and reasoning to understand and resolve problems. I believed that I should suppress feelings that could result in irrational behavior, and I had little patience for those who seemed to govern …

If You’re in a Hole, Stop Digging 716.2

Most of us have lied to get out of trouble. From childhood denials (“it wasn’t me”) to adult fabrications (“the check is in the mail”), what seem like harmless falsehoods easily fall from our tongues. And then we make up more excuses or tell more lies to protect the first one. Soon the “cover-up” is more serious and credibility-damaging than …

The Doctrine of Relative Filth 716.1

In the early ’90s I was asked to spend a full day talking about ethics with the entire California Senate. I was their punishment. Three senators had been convicted the previous year, and voters had passed an ethics initiative requiring legislators to receive education on ethical principles. This was a high-profile, high-prestige program, and I didn’t want to be naïve …

If You Love Competition, You Never Lose 715.5

Suppose you’re an Olympic athlete and you hear that the only person who has a chance to beat you is ill and may have to withdraw. Are you overjoyed at your good luck or disappointed that you will not be able to compete against the very best? If you really love and understand sports, you ought to be disappointed. John …

The Woodsman and the Leprechaun 715.4

Long ago, a woodsman saved the life of a leprechaun and was given one wish. The woodsman thought for a long time and finally wished that each of his three daughters find a good husband. But the leprechaun was full of games. “How am I to know what’s good in your mind? I’ll give them husbands, but you can name …

Do a Little More 715.3

In 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Queens, New York. She was attacked repeatedly over the course of an hour. Despite her screams, none of her 38 neighbors intervened or called for help. Some were afraid. Some didn’t want to get involved. Some thought someone else would do it. This …

Seven Truths for Bosses 715.2

Here are seven truths I’ve discovered in my struggles to be an effective boss: It’s not what you say that matters; it’s what people hear. Just because you said it doesn’t mean they heard it. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean they read it. Be sure your message is received and understood. There are lots of things you don’t …

Maybe Pro Athletes Really Aren’t Jerks 714.5

I never heard of Kim Hughes until I was sent a link to a story written in newspaper from Racine, Wisconsin. What I learned was that Hughes, a 6-foot-11 giant of a man, was half of a set of identical twins who played basketball for the University of Wisconsin. He was also an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers …

What Are You Pretending Not to Know? 714.4

On a bitter-cold night, a Russian countess was taken to a play in a horse-drawn carriage. Upon arrival, she ordered the driver and footman to wait outside with the carriage in case she wanted to leave early. The play included several emotional scenes, and she was sobbing when she exited the theater and found a small crowd gathered around her …

What You Do Is What You’ll Get 714.3

If you want to help your children do well in life, there are a few things you can do. A high proportion of high achievers had two things in common: First, there were lots of books in their homes and a great emphasis on reading. Second, there was a family tradition of regularly eating dinner together. Filling a house with …

Posttraumatic Growth 714.2

I’ve been fascinated, awestruck, and intimidated by disturbingly vivid real-time images of the destructive force of shifting earth and massive waves of water. Technology has given us an unprecedented ability to experience every nuance of Mother Nature’s show of power. The visuals have an unreal science fiction quality that can cause us to distance ourselves from the tidal waves of …

Heartwrenching to Heartwarming 714.1

The huge 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan and the still unfolding consequences of tsunamis rolling to shores all over the world are just the latest reminders of our vulnerability to unpredictable, unavoidable, massive natural disasters. In 2004, more than 200,000 people (mostly Indonesians) died in an Indian Ocean tsunami. A year later, an earthquake in Pakistan killed about 80,000. Last year, …

I Didn’t Want the Janitor to Lose His Job 713.5

The primary responsibility for instilling good values and building character is with parents. This doesn’t mean, however, that teachers and coaches don’t have a critically important role. The unfortunate fact is that far too many kids are raised in morally impoverished settings that foster lying, cheating, and violence. If we don’t give these children moral instruction, many of them will …

How Happy Are You? 713.4

On a scale of one to ten, with ten being “It’s as good as it gets! I’m even happier than Charlie Sheen thinks he is,” and one being “Life sucks; it can’t get worse,” how happy are you with your life? Researchers say that when asked to grade their lives on a happiness scale, most people give a score of …

Lottery Winners and Paraplegics 713.3

The field of Positive Psychology pioneered by professor Martin Seligman is just over ten years old. Prior to his declaration that psychologists should study what works in life, including the factors that produce happiness and success, almost all research focused on mental illness and dysfunctional personalities. Positive Psychology unleashed waves of useful scientific wisdom, including the conclusion that happier people …

Is Happiness Around the Corner? 713.2

For lots of people, happiness is just around the corner. They just need to get their degree, a particular job, a promotion, or a raise. Maybe they’re waiting to get married or have a child. Perhaps they will be happy when they retire. Alfred D’ Souza said, “For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to …

There’s a Difference between a Happy Life and a Good Life 713.1

Charlie Sheen recently took his place at the head of the line of celebrities who have publicly discredited themselves, ruined their relationships, and damaged their careers by addictive and self-destructive behavior. I’ve been reluctant to give even more attention to an essentially trashy story, but I see an important lesson in the way he continues to defend his unhealthy lifestyle …

We Don’t Need Anti-Bullying Programs 712.5

Though intensive media attention on bullying has died down, the problem persists in many forms, and it continues to diminish the lives of tens of thousands of students every day. According to a recent survey, roughly half of all high school students said that in the past year they were bullied in a manner that seriously upset them. A similar …

The Paradoxical Commandments 712.4

In 1968, when Kent M. Keith was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard, he wrote “The Paradoxical Commandments” as part of a booklet for student leaders. He describes the Commandments as guidelines for finding personal meaning in the face of adversity: 1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. 2. If you do good, people will accuse you of …

Firefighters, Cops, and Soldiers 712.3

A few days ago, a massive crowd gathered in downtown Los Angeles to pay tribute to firefighter Glenn Allen, who died in action. It was an impressive and solemn ceremony well covered by the local media and attended by thousands of fellow firefighters and the city’s leading politicians. The testimonials on behalf of the 61-year-old firefighter were eloquent and sincere …

A Story Fit for a Legend 712.2

The UCLA Bruin basketball team was thumping the Arizona Wildcats by 20 points with about one minute left, so Coach Ben Howland put in all his bench players, including stocky, six-foot guard Tyler Trapani. Tyler, a junior, is a “walk-on,” which means he wasn’t recruited and does not have a scholarship. He’s been on the team for three years and …

The Illusion of Success 711.5

A common management strategy to spur achievement is to set aggressive performance objectives that, like the mechanical rabbits that pace racing greyhounds, push employees to maximum effort. Using “stretch goals” can be successful, but unreasonably high performance goals often spawn dishonesty and irresponsibility. Believing that “it’s a matter of survival,” a disturbing number of employees conclude that distortion, deception, and …

The Parable of the Carpenter 711.4

A master carpenter who worked for the same builder for nearly 50 years announced he wanted to retire. The builder told him how much he appreciated his work. He gave the carpenter a $5,000 bonus and asked him if he would build just one more house. The builder owned a magnificent lot with a spectacular view, and he wanted to …

Cheating Is Just Wrong 711.3

If you have a child in high school, there’s a pretty good chance he or she cheats at school. In fact, a recent study by the Josephson Institute reveals that 59% of high schoolers admit they cheated in the past year. Yet neither schools nor parents seem to take this seriously. Instead they often tell kids: “You’re only cheating yourself.” …