I firmly believe that whether you are a parent or an educator, giving children “tools” for thriving is perhaps the most important gift we bestow. Their value will multiply and endure. While our parental hearts might like to control our children’s future, somehow managing their experiences to produce the best outcomes, deep down we know that is not possible. What we can do, however, is give them the “tools” to thrive, so that in any circumstance, in any future scenario, they will be empowered to grow and flourish.
The dictionary tells us that thriving means to grow vigorously, to flourish; it is to progress toward, or realize a goal. Thriving describes people who are reaching their personal potential, who know how to struggle through challenges, and who grasp the timely opportunities life presents. Thriving also describes people who know how to be related to other people. They have learned how to be compassionate, supportive and uplifting towards family, friends and colleagues. Those who thrive live with hope, expectation and enthusiasm for life.
It is important to note that a person who leads a thriving life does so because he or she is a thriving person. This means that as part of their character, as their habit of life, they thrive. Anyone can have a good day, finding some form of success or achievement in life. But to consistently thrive in environments at home, at school, at the office, among family, among the community at large, requires character whose practice it is to thrive. A thriving person is the aggregate of the habits of thriving. These habits are what we are calling the “tools” for thriving. Character is the sum total of one’s history of habit formation and plays a significant role in achieving satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
Not only does history teach us this fact of life, but research in the social sciences and biological sciences concur. While there is considerable evidence that a large part of our adult personality and disposition is genetic, there is also considerable evidence that our character, our disposition toward life, our propensities and proclivities, are the sum total of our history of habit formation. Often it is the interaction of our genetic dispositions with environmental supports or inhibitors that ultimately shape who we are, i.e., our character.
As we explore the means by which we can shape our children’s character, we should understand the extent and limits of our influence. Obviously there is not much we can do concerning their genetic makeup. That is done. Nor can we necessarily change the larger environmental circumstances we live in. For example, we live at the commencement of the 21st century not the 20th century.
Hence, societal expectations and belief systems are very different today than they were 100 years ago; this difference in environment influences habit formation. Also, we live in 21st century America, not 21st century China, or Egypt, or Guatemala. The cultural imperatives on our children are very different than those on children of other cultures and nations. Given these limitations, however, there is so much we can do to help our children forge good habits, the “tools,” for thriving.
These essays should begin with a small disclaimer. No one should be so foolish as to think we can absolutely effect our children’s habit formation for the good. There are too many variables. There are simply too many influences that weigh upon our children as they grow. Consequently, they will also develop bad habits – some from the world that surrounds them and some even from their parents and teachers. Undaunted, however, we should recognize that there is so much we can do, and to this end we will look at universally recognized behaviors/habits that lead to a thriving life and make suggestions as to how we can cultivate those habits.