Thursday, September 3, 2020
Today I am grateful that character counts. When I was working in an elementary school our wonderful guidance counselor instituted a program called Character Counts.
Teachers, lunch room staff, secretaries, custodians could all fill out a small piece of paper with someone’s name when they saw them do something kind and memorable. Then the tags would be hung on the character wall.
It didn’t have to be a huge thing, but rather a small act, like helping a friend pick up the pencils they dropped; offering half of your own snack to someone who forgot theirs; or helping a kindergartener zip their jacket before going outside to the bus.
Maybe our country needs a Character Counts program. Like so many of you, I keep saying I can’t take much more, yet here we are, taking more. Because what choice do we have? We are alive and well and therefore in a perfect position to take more. We don’t have to like it.
I have a lot of triggers for writing about this today, not the least of which is an article I read in last Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, with small anecdotes of people doing, or saying nice things to each other in Philly. Yes, Philly. The population there is way friendlier than touted. They just don’t want to lose their image, so keep it quiet.
Another trigger for writing about character is that I see so little in our government and general population right now. I know why. I don’t have to like it. The truth is, whether you like it or not, character starts at the top.
If parents don’t show good character, ie/kindness towards others, then their children won’t either. If the leaders of our government don’t show good character, then neither will those who “worship” them. We are a society of lemmings, following those in power over a cliff of nasty vitriol because when it’s all we have for so many years, it starts to feel normal. To some. But not me. And I hope not you or many others.
Little kindnesses towards strangers has been a mantra I’ve touted for a long time. Throwing down the sixty-seven cents someone needs to finish checking out at the dollar store; helping a four-foot tall lady by getting something off the top shelf at the grocery store; giving that mom with gnarly toddlers a pep talk about how hard it is to raise kids; not getting out of my car and smacking the guy behind me who’s beeping his horn the nano-second the light changes. Sometimes people don’t even know they are the victims of my kindness.
But now I’m barely out in public, so my opportunities for even those small acts are dwindling daily. The handling of this virus has taken a lot from us in so many ways that we may not even realize for many years to come.
We must fight hopelessness, despair and sadness, but sometimes we simply don’t know where to go with it. Or is that just me? Yes, we’ll vote. Yes, we’ll donate to good causes if we can. Yes, we will protect ourselves by turning off and tuning out when we simply can’t take any more.
Occasionally I find myself going silent. Yes, me. You can stop laughing now. But it’s true. I need quiet time to sort through all of the nonsense I hear, even when I think I’m not listening, when I’m avoiding all media. It’s too much.
Because even when everything external is turned off, everything internal is running on over-drive, sorting and thinking and crying and plotting and hoping.
Do we need a new government position? Maybe we should elect a national guidance counselor and build a paper-wall out of the names of those people who want to build up our country, not destroy it. Because I, for one, dream of a time when character will once again count.