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What One Character Trait Do You Want To Pass On To Your Child?

Today’s post comes from my podcast What One Character Trait Do You Want To Pass On To Your Child?

We’re asking the question: If you had to choose one character trait to pass on to your child or children, what would it be and why?  If you don’t have children, what trait are you aspiring to?

It’s no secret what one trait I want Liliana to have, if you’ve been reading my blog, and I’ll share it soon enough with the rest of you, but until then, let’s first think of some lessons we’d like our kids to leave home with.  It’ll be different for everyone.

Here’s a tentative list of 20:

  1. Life’s not fair.
  2. Stand up for yourself and what you want.
  3. Think before you speak.
  4. Be honest.  It’s a lot less work than being dishonest.
  5. Be real.  Be authentic.
  6. Listen to what others have to say.
  7. Remember: not everyone is telling the truth.
  8. Be kind.
  9. You can walk away from someone.
  10. Apologize when you’re wrong.
  11. There will always be consequences, whether you’ve made a bad choice or a good choice.
  12. Don’t be afraid of a risk.  You might fail, but then you get to try again.
  13. Other people will always tell you how to live your life.  Listen to your heart.
  14. It’s okay to disagree.
  15. It’s okay to be mad or sad, but it’s no excuse to treat the people around you poorly.
  16. Work hard and always do your best.
  17. If you’ve promised something, do it.
  18. Rejection does not mean you’re a horrible person.
  19. Value and respect all people, no matter their station in life.  Treat others as you would want to be treated.
  20. You alone are responsible for the direction of your life.

That’s 20 to get us started.  Now, let’s tease out some character traits from our list.  We want our child to be responsible and kind and authentic and truthful and brave.  We want her to weather adversity well.  We want her to fight for herself.  We want her to try new things.  We want her to listen to what her heart is telling her.  We want her to work hard, to be proud of the works her hands have created.

None of those come as a surprise to us.  But if you could choose one trait, which would it be?  And why?

If I could have anything in the world for my daughter, it would be that she would be kind.  I don’t care what career she chooses.  I don’t care if she’s successful in the world’s eyes.  I don’t care about her sexual orientation.  I don’t care if she’s working the most menial of jobs.  I care only that she’s kind.

And I don’t mean kind as in please-walk-all-over-me kind.  I mean that she is intentional in her behavior toward others.  I mean that she respects others enough to respond to an email or letter, she RSVPs to invitations, she responds softly yet firmly to someone who is attacking her, she compliments genuinely, she doesn’t gossip, she doesn’t tear down someone’s work or character (when it has nothing to do with ethics, such as abuse), she realizes she can learn from others, she’s not concerned with appearing as superior to someone else, she admits when she’s wrong, she has the ability to empathize, she sees everyone as her equal, she thinks before she speaks.

She forgives.  She’s gracious to others.  Always.

I’ve mentioned all the ways she’s kind to others, but in doing so, I don’t mean to omit my wish that she be kind to herself.  That comes with the territory.  She speaks kindly to herself, listens to the signals her body is giving her, acknowledges that she needs time to be quiet, appreciates she can’t do it all, stands up for herself in any situation, and learns to quell the negative self-talk.

Remember the list of 20 things we discussed?  As I’m reading them to myself, I realize kindness is a foundation for all of these.  But I also realize my daughter is growing up in a vastly different world than I grew up in.  For starters, she has more communication modes than I did.  What did we have?  The phone.  She’ll have the internet, texting, a cell phone, things like Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook, and other things that aren’t even invented yet, where she’s anonymous to millions of people.  It would be easy to think lightly of what you’re saying or doing in a crowd like that.  In fact, I’ve blogged before about the rampant rise of snark in cyberspace (and now print media).  It’s as though people have lost sight of the fact that others have feelings, that it’s not appropriate to spew your first ugly thoughts out into the void.

There’s a wonderful TED talk done by Jonathan Zittrain in which he offers up the idea that the Web contains random acts of kindness, and you have only to look to see them.

People filter out comments on websites; they help others with their questions; they offer up advice; they encourage each other.  Zittrain says, “I believe we can build architectures online to make such human requests that much easier to do, to make it possible for all of us to see that the data we encounter online is just stuff on which to click and paste and copy and forward that actually represents human emotion and endeavor and impact, and to be able to have an ethical moment where we decide how we want to treat it.”

So, there’s hope after all.

I’m sure you’d agree it’s refreshing (and startling) when you encounter a person who is kind and thoughtful and thinks of others just as he thinks of himself.  I want to be like that.  Kindness is my mantra, if you will.  It’s the only way I know how to combat the mean-spiritedness and self-centeredness out there.

My biggest task is to live it.  For my daughter.  It’s the only way she’ll pick it up.  That means in the smallest areas of my life, I have to be watchful I’m being kind—to myself and others.

Which trait have you chosen to pass on to your children?  And why that trait?  If you don’t have children, what is the trait you’re pursuing in your own personal life?

[Post image: Liliana rescuing a wandering baby goat at the fair, July 2011]

2 Comments


  1. Shawn
    Dec 06, 2011

    Have you seen that video on YouTube of the girl saying Just be kind? I love that. I show it to my girls often. Definitely a common theme in our house. My other theme is Have Fun. Life can be so serious, as we all know, but I don’t want them feeling that it has to be rise to the top series all the time. Life is meant to be lived. Fully. Authentically. Happily. : )


    • Elissa
      Dec 07, 2011

      Yes! Thanks, Shawn, for reminding me of that video! I posted that video a while back. For those of you who want to see the video, follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxm5ol6GE48.

      And YES, having fun is important. Especially for a child before he or she reaches the age of difficult responsibilities (bills, education decisions, work, etc.). I think my childhood got lost somewhere…I’ve been an adult for a very long time, so I’ve had to learn to have fun and let go.

      Thanks for this, Shawn. LOVE this addition! xo

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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