Recently a colleague sent me a short list titled The Seven Blunders of the World. The list was attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, who was supposed to have scribbled them in a note to his grandson shortly before his assassination in 1948.
Regardless of the source, this list is very profound and provides a lot of food for thought. The list of blunders is:
1. Wealth without work.
2. Pleasure without conscience.
3. Knowledge without character.
4. Commerce without morality.
5. Science without humanity.
6. Worship without sacrifice.
7. Politics without principle.
The application of this list is easily understood when applied to our society around us, but it also can give us some insights into what teens who are struggling are learning from parents, schools and other adults. My question is, “Is this what we are teaching our children?” Many of these blunders can explain the problems these teens are having. For example:
1. Wealth without work. For some time, young people have been referred to as the “entitled” generation. That is, many of them receive almost everything they want without any effort on their part. Many parents (and our society) seem so focused on providing everything they can for their children, and protecting them from anything that may make them feel bad, that children are deprived of learning how to handle failure or overcoming challenges. Thus, in a very real sense, these children’s experience is “Wealth without work” and are unprepared for adulthood.
2. Pleasure without conscience. The mantra made popular in the 1960s, “If it feels good, do it!” seems to have become institutionalized in our society, especially among the young. Having fun, feeling good right now and the Peter Pan attitude of never having to grow up, is a common attitude despite the longer term consequences. Movies and popular sitcoms usually glorify what is fun, glossing over unpleasant consequences like unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, inability to get a job or the harm from shallow relationships. News programs at times touches on these consequences, but those consequences are rarely shown to relate to earlier irresponsibility. If having fun harms or disappoints others, the frequent attitude by many young people is “That’s their problem and has nothing to do with me!” Too many young people are learning this stunted lesson that immediate pleasure is the only value. Schools perpetuate this through valuing only high scores on tests and ignoring any character implications of how the high scores are obtained.
3. Knowledge without character. The expressed goal by many educators and politicians is for every person to have a college degree. We have a system of higher education with a quality that attracts students from all over the world. The knowledge passed on in our Colleges has helped fuel an amazing growth in scientific knowledge and standard of living. But, except for adding a few courses in ethics in recent years, it seems we are teaching knowledge by itself without much consideration about the purpose of obtaining all that knowledge except for the self satisfying idea of “getting a better job.” The lesson to our students is that knowledge by itself is what is important and applying character values is of little importance.
4. Commerce without morality. “Whatever it takes!” is a legitimate motivator. However, this slogan is all too often taken to mean there are no boundaries. As an example, the recent recession was cooked up in Washington DC and Wall Street providing a role model to young people that success is obtained by misrepresentation, spin, hiding the real agenda and empty promises. Often the person who tries to provide a legitimate valuable service or product, if successful, is suspected of doing something underhanded to achieve success. The person with the most money, no matter how obtained, is glorified, teaching young people that the only consideration is acquiring lots of money, and adding morality to business is for suckers. In schools, the person who has the highest test scores is glorified, and little consideration is made of how he/she got those scores.
5. Science without humanity. It seems like we almost worship science. In a dispute, if someone can make the claim that their perspective is “scientific,” their argument almost always carries the day. Science is usually seen as the engine of progress, and what follows from that is if scientists are capable of doing something, then they should simply do it. Any other considerations, like if a course of action is humane, tends to get lost. The arguments and decisions as to whether we should do something that is scientifically possible tends to be passed on to legislative bodies, where politics, vote counting and political considerations tend to carry the day. What we are teaching our children is that the main question is if we can do it, rather than if we should. It goes even further. On some issues we have so much faith in the ability of scientists to accomplish what we want, we tend to adopt governmental policies on the faith that scientists will progress at the speed we want, as if they can do miracles. Schools tend to perpetuate both these concepts, by curricula emphasizing knowledge without serious concern on ethical issues, and teaching to political visions without questioning their feasibility.
6. Worship without sacrifice. Worship is usually spoke of in religious or spiritual terms, and teaches that we should orient our lives to that faith/belief. This automatically assumes a sacrifice of some of our lives to that belief. However, many people have got into the habit of professing a religious belief, but comfortably reserving that for Sunday mornings, not letting it interfere with the rest of our lives. What we teach our children is that religious worship is not all that important and not worth sacrificing our ambitions or comforts.
7. Politics without principle. Can an honest person survive in politics? Most thoughtful people who watch politics fairly closely would be doubtful. We see people of modest means get elected, and by the time their political career is over are millionaires. We see people accused of wrong-doing and we don’t know if the accused or accuser are most at fault. We hear of voter fraud, and of secret unsavory deals made in our legislative bodies. Millions of people are outraged in general at our political process, but confused as to who is at fault. So many wind up simply blaming all politicians. Or, others buy into somebody’s agenda as to who to blame, thus perpetuating the problem. How can our children see all this and believe there are very many politicians, and their supporters, who are acting on principle?
There is little any one of us can do to change these attitudes in society, but we can influence what schools are teaching, and maybe even counter some of these blunders. There are many private emotional growth or therapeutic boarding schools I work with that take character education seriously. Actually, one of the most therapeutic elements successful schools adopt is to teach character as a healing influence. That is, the best way to help a struggling teen is to teach the opposite of these blunders by how the teachers and other staff act, as well as by words. There is no good reason our public schools can’t do this also. Some are, and that is one of the important reasons they are successful.