John M. Yeager, Ed.D, MAPP, is Director of the Center for Character Excellence at The Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. John consults with Dave Shearon, and Sherri Fisher at www.FlourishingSchools.com, an organization that integrates best practices in education with cutting edge Positive Psychology research. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.
John's articles are here.
I was positively struck by Sean Doyle’s recent PPND post entitled What Do You Wish For. He claims, “wishes tell us something about what it means to be human. They frame for us our vision of what is important.” What are the foundations that help people awaken their dreams to make them a reality? Unfortunately, wishing has become magical thinking for so many people who have high expectations, but haven’t developed a strong will to develop a vision and a plan, and subsequently, are not able to cash in on the rewards of their aspirations. One of the reasons so many people enjoy the holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, is the portrayal of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) as having formed a “strength of will” throughout his life. We pull for the person who has excellence of character, one who succeeds in acting as a person of virtue would act, as a matter of effort. Eventually the strength becomes second nature, and becomes effortless. This differs from those who have not had a robust “strengths inoculation,” a case where they know what should be done, but haven’t fully developed the prerequisite strengths. They want to act as a person of virtue would act, but are unsuccessful in the effort.
We must will good habits, we must will improved skills – we just cannot wish them to happen.
Peter Greer, former Head – Montclair Kimberley Academy
Aristotle claimed that a person’s “will” is developed through establishing habits – “brave people became brave by doing brave things.” Virtue is developed through action. This has great implications for young people who are in the throws of developing their “will” through the modeling, dialogue and consequences of life experiences. A compelling example about wishing and willing comes from a story by Peter Greer, the former headmaster of The Montclair Kimberley Academy. He speaks about a young boy’s Little League experience:
The boy was not known for being a good hitter. In fact, he didn’t swing the bat at all and would consequently be called out on strikes every time he came to home plate. It was agonizing for his mother and father to listen to angry parents saying awful things about their wonderful son – all because he couldn’t hit the ball. At the end of the season, the team was playing in an important game and the boy came to the plate in a critical situation with teammates on base and the team behind a couple of runs. True to form, the bat didn’t leave his shoulder for three pitches. After the game the dejected son said to his proud and caring father: “Dad, I really wish I could hit.” The father was elated and said, “Yes. I will find you the best help available. We will work on it every day. We will make you a hitter.” His son’s reply was, “But, Dad, I don’t want to work at it. I just want to hit.” He had not yet learned the difference between wishing and willing. Dr. Greer affirms that we must will good habits, we must will improved skills – we just cannot wish them to happen.
I am fascinated how young people view the world today – their expectations, ambitions, and how they plan to achieve them. Jean Twenge, the author of Generation Me, a book about the Under-35 generation, states that “GenMe also holds on to dreams more fiercely, and in a way that makes you wonder how we will react if we don’t achieve our lofty goals.” She talks about an increase in cynicism and entitlement from past generations.
Kali Trzesniewski and her colleagues at The University of Western Ontario, however, suggest that it is not about a generation that has been spoiled. It is that “GenMe has been raised thinking we were special and getting lots from Mom and Dad, but when we hit young adulthood we face an enormous mismatch between what we expect and what we actually get.” This comes as a culture shock to many young people after leaving the nest and can influence the process of realizing their dreams. Employers who are aware of this shift, can then play to the strengths of their young employees to help them navigate the next steps of their journeys.
I don’t wish to generalize GenerationMe or any other cohort, and how they have made and will make their marks on the world. As a baby boomer growing up in the 50’s and 60’s my wishes helped to frame my visions and plans to get it done! It was founded on a strong nurturing of my “will” by caregivers, teachers, and other important people. It is essential that we carry on that legacy by innoculating young people with the “strengths habit” so that their dreams can awaken and come alive!
Trzesniewski, K. H., Donnellan, M. B., and Robins, R. W. (2008). Do today’s young people really think they are so extraordinary? An examination of secular changes in narcissism and self enhancement. Psychological Science, 19, 181-188.
Twenge, J.M. (2007). Generation Me – Why Today’s Young American Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before. New York: Free Press.
Yeager, J, Buxton, J., Baltzell, A., & Bzdell, W. (2001). Character and Coaching: Building Virtue in Athletic Programs. Port Chester, NY: National Professional Resources-Dude Publishing.
Mr. Peabody and the Wayback Machine from Toonopedia