More than four decades ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered this statement in his "I have a dream" speech: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
I get goosebumps when I hear this particular part of Dr. King's speech. It also saddens me, because we as a society are failing our children because we do not teach them how to have character or how to choose friends who have character. Teaching children to keep good company is crucial to grooming them for a productive adulthood.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, character is a combination of qualities that distinguishes one person from another. Those qualities can be agreeable or unscrupulous.
Of course, parents want their children to acquire friends with agreeable qualities. But how?
You create good character in them.
Teach your children that manners count. "Yes, ma'am," and "no, sir," are not exclusive to Southern culture. Holding a door open for a stranger should not be only the doorman's responsibility. Saying "thank you" and "please" should be unsolicited. Manners never go out of style and should be expected from your children.
Teach them that kindness opens all doors. Being kind to a person, especially to an unseemly one, is a sign of strength. It is easy to be nice to a person who is nice. The real test of character is being cordial to a person who doesn't even know the meaning of the word. It is hip to be nice.
Teach them humility and self-pride. Teach them to be modest in dress and achievement because they have pride in themselves.
When children are confident in themselves, they will not find it necessary to boast or brag. They will also not find it necessary to belittle others.
Knowing you are good enough should be good enough.
Teach them to appreciate the value of human life. Impress on your children the truth that they were created in the image of God. Instill in them the knowledge that degradation of any person in any way is an insult to God.
People are unique creations. We all have emotions, thoughts and purposes that need to be valued, even when we don't agree.
If we teach and model for our children all these aspects of character, with God's grace, they will mold into our children's personalities. Then they will search for others with the same value system.
They will do as 1 Corinthians 15:33 commands: "Do not be misled. Bad company corrupts good character."
Cheryl H. Poole is an Aiken County mother and teacher.