"Good character is made up of three parts," according to a British think tank report released last August: "a sense of personal agency or self-direction; an acceptance of personal responsibility; and effective regulation of one's own emotions, in particular the ability to resist temptation or at least defer gratification." *See more excerpts below. Above, Lesson 1 from McGuffey's Eclectic First Reader, one of a series of textbooks that "molded American literary taste and morality, particularly in the Middle West, from 1836 until the early twentieth century" according to Answers.com.
"It's the character, stupid," we emailed Fox & Friends this morning in response to their viewer question, "Which is more important in this election, character or an economic plan?":
While Obama's stealth radical agenda, Alinsky-style thuggish tactics and hysterical followers frighten me, I'm no big fan of McCain's either, what with Soros-seeded McCain-Feingold "campaign finance reform" and McCain's scientifically challenged views on anthropogenic climate change.
McCain is the far lesser of two evils. Neither of the presidential candidates knows the first thing about economics, so all we have LEFT is character, and for a Beltway pol, McCain's got it way over Barack "Whichever-way-the-wind-blows" Obama.
"Obama is my Jesus?" God help us.
Reeves's three parts to a good character will be familiar to psychologists. The first is what psychologists call "self-efficacy" - belief in your own ability to achieve something. Shelves of evidence show how important self-belief is for success. Reeves's second aspect - "taking responsibility for one's own actions" - is easy to aim for but much harder to put into practice thanks to the effects of cognitive-dissonance. Psychologically it is extremely hard for us to recognise when we've behaved wrongly or made bad decisions (check out "mistakes were made but not by me" for more on this). Reeves's third aspect of a good character is also well known to psychologists who have built up plenty of evidence showing that self-discipline and self-regulation are vital to success, and may even be more important than intelligence in that regard.
As Reeves explains, the notion that there is such a thing as good character gets politically delicate because of (probably unfounded) claims that bad characters cause poverty and because of evidence showing that poverty causes bad characters. Look away for a second and you find yourself in the territory of blaming poor people for their lot. And you're effectively saying that some people are better than others …
Reeves discusses whether good characters are harder to come by these days and if so why. He finds no evidence for the idea that we've been corrupted by consumerism, but says there is evidence for the idea that liberalism - the anything goes mentality of modern life - may be partly to blame.
In particular, Reeves says the idea that we should all be free to do what we want has negatively impacted on parenting. And it is the family and good parenting that Reeves identifies as one of the most important sources of good characters.
Paging Dr. Sanity.
Update: Our buddy Jill of The Business of Life links, pulling out this fun quote from Richard Reeves's "A question of character":
The first headmaster of Stowe school, JF Roxburgh, declared his goal to be turning out young men who would be "acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck."
John McCain comes to mind.