Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Four Cs

When we left the Mormon church, and especially after telling our children, there was a sense, almost literal, of leaping into an abyss. Was anything real? Was anything solid? Through years of conditioning, we feared that without the backbone of the church and its moral structure to support us, we would be abandoning our kids' spiritual welfare to "mists of darkness," to destinies of crime, drugs, and teenage pregnancy, and even worse, coffee.

(This attitude emanates from the highest levels of Mormondom even today, with an article in this month's Ensign by apostle Elder Dallin Oaks stating explicitly that secular humanists, atheists, and our ilk are Anti-Christs, foretold in the Book of Mormon as part of the great and abominable whore of the whole earth. Ouch, Dallin! I'm seriously just trying to do the best I can to live by truth and with integrity. Sorry to upset you so much!)

As we treaded water early in this journey, my wife and I struggled with how to instill core values and socially conscious behavior in our children without invoking the threat of supernatural consequences. For those who haven't tried it, especially those with very bright and strong-willed children, this is no easy feat. Much easier to tell them that God will punish them or withhold favor or salvation.

In the years since, we've come across a number of amazing resources. Here are just a few:

But at the time, we were flailing for anything solid. After all, we had been raised in a strong (and overall positive) structure of family values, yet we had no personal experience of how to do it without religion, and not another soul on planet earth with whom to discuss it. Of course, example always screams louder than any words, and we hoped that by being honest, kind, curious, joyful and brave ourselves, we would instill those values in our kids.

One day as we were discussing a specific problem, we felt some inspiration. This is what we came up with on the spot, and it stuck:

The Four C's
  • Courage
  • Compassion
  • Creativity
  • Commitment
We developed small, fun lessons about each of these values. We identified examples of when our heroes, both real and fictional (Jesus, Lincoln, Luke Skywalker, etc.) displayed them. We stenciled these words onto our dining room wall. For several months, every night at the dinner table we would ask the kids about how they manifested these values during the day: "Billy fell at the playground and hurt his knee, and I helped him get to the nurse" (compassion); "I scored the winning touchdown at recess!" (courage); "I built a new spaceship with legos today!" (creativity); or "I finished all my homework this afternoon" (commitment). We made a color-coded paper chain, and added as many specific accomplishments as we could each day. This involved parents, too. It was fun as we watched the chain grow rapidly. The initial goal was to make it long enough to wrap around our house, though we never quite got that far.
It was a good framework for us. These universal values seemed to capture most of what we felt was essential to pass on to our kids so they could live happy, productive, fulfilling lives, without needing to invoke a deity. Fairly, all of these values in some measure were instilled in us through our Mormon upbringing. The trick, of course, is separating the value from the vehicle, and all the collateral baggage a faulty vehicle might bring with it.

Here's a brief discussion of each value:
  • Courage: I think this is the most important value of all. Moral courage, physical courage, spiritual courage. If a child has the courage of his or her convictions, they can make brave choices, overcome failure and disappointment, stand up for themselves when challenged, and take a stand for truth and justice when others are turning away. Also encompassed in this value are confidence and self-esteem. 
  • Compassion: Understanding our connectedness to each other, as well as to animals and the earth, that we are all bound in a common fate as humans on this planet, instills a sense of kindness, empathy, and gentleness towards others. Finding opportunities to reach out to the sad, distressed, lonely, impoverished is not difficult. Always much more difficult to offer the same compassion to those within the walls of your own home, but nevertheless the house is an infinite laboratory for this. Also encompassed in this value are charity and service.
  • Creativity: Leave your mark on the world! Do something unique! Let your light so shine! Elizabeth and I are creative people, and my experience is that nothing is more motivating or fulfilling than the act of creating something unique and expressive about your experience on this planet. Also encompassed in this value are critical thinking, innovation, and independence.
  • Commitment: Do what you say you're going to do. Persevere through hard times. Take a chosen task all the way to its completion. "A job worth doing is worth doing well." Also encompassed in this value are honesty and loyalty.
So there you go: our alliterative mnemonic that created opportunities for conversation around the dinner table, and a guidebook of sorts for dealing with problems and growth opportunities inside and outside the home. We found that most other essential values were able to be placed within this framework, but two others deserve special mention--although not as conveniently "Cs."

  • The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. This simple maxim has stood the test of time, and creates an easy framework for kids to understand the social consequences of their actions. "Would you like it if Billy threw dog poop at you? No. So let's not do that, okay?"

  • Resiliency: The ability to bounce back from failure. Closely tied to courage, is there any more valuable trait to instill in our children? Failures will come. It's okay to experience that, feel it, grieve it. But then, son, time to get right back on that horse! (Thanks for that one, Mom and Dad!) Life is a long journey, and weathering the storms that come with courage and commitment is essential to our happiness and fulfillment. Three particular phrases that have helped ameliorate the sting of failure, disappointment, betrayal or pain: "Everything's going to be alright, "This too shall pass," and "Brighter days ahead!"

Or my kids' favorite: "Hey, guys, I just realized something! Today is the first day of the rest of my life! And it's the last day of my old life! AND . . . it's only minus one days until yesterday!"

(Okay, so that last one doesn't make much sense, but it's funny, and it gets to another core value: developing a good sense of humor, and a healthy sense of the absurdity and exquisiteness of life. Always good to keep these kiddos and their developing wits on their toes.)

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