My favorite Biblical character (we all have one, don’t we?) is King David. He is an incredibly human character, known just as well for his many mistakes (sleeping with a married woman, sending her husband off to be killed, letting his pride overpower him for a census) as he is for what he did well (expanding the kingdom, giving others a second chance, repenting for his own sins). We can learn so much from David about leadership in how he navigated different situations during the time of Saul’s kingship and David’s own kingship. We can also learn from David about being human and integrity and what it means to do the right thing. British writer and theologian C.S. Jewish once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one but God is watching,” and King David certainly had moments when he chose to do the “right thing” especially because no one but God was watching including meaningfully repenting for his wrongdoings, sparing the lives of people he could have killed, and showing kindness to people when others did not.
In fact, our history is filled with people who have done the “right thing” even when challenging, and those examples look very different.
Think about Oscar Schindler whose famous “list” saved 1,200 Jewish lives during the Holocaust or Sandy Koufax who sat out a world series baseball game in 1965 because it was more important to him to stay true to who he was as a Jew on Yom Kippur than play. Think about Israeli relief workers who rush to the scene when there is a natural disaster in Mexico, Haiti, Texas or somewhere else or Moses who went up against Pharaoh to free the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Think about Ida Wells who investigated the treatment of others and publicized it in newspapers to gain attention or Emmeline Pankhurst who went to jail several times for her work getting women the right to vote.
And this kind of “doing the right thing” happens every day in our schools.
Bars and Melody (two teenaged boys), for example, wrote a rap song to process their feelings about being bullied and inspire others, which they performed on Britain’s Got Talent and the Bridgewater fifth grade football team went out of their way to support another student who was being bullied for a speech impediment and wearing a suit to school.
As we begin a new school year, many parents hope to be told that their kids are the ones who always “do the right thing,” but what can a parent do to help this happen?
Have a conversation with your children about what it means to “do the right thing.” Do not assume that your children know what “the right thing” is or even that you would want them to do that right thing. Make sure to talk with them and have an open conversation, giving them a chance to ask any questions they might have. Why is it valuable to “do the right thing”? What does that look like to you? What does that mean? What supports are in place to help make that happen? What if it’s hard? What might happen? If they have a chance to talk through these questions with you, they will be more likely to understand their role and the expectations and hopes you have for them.
Reward your children when they “do the right thing.” No, you don’t have to take them to ice cream or buy them a new video game, but make sure they know you are proud of them. Debrief with them as ask them questions such as what was hard about your actions or how did your actions make others feel? Ask them about how they feel and what they would do in the future. Some of the most powerful learning and behavior enforcement happens in the reflection and consideration of past events.
Model the behavior you would like to see for your children. Parents are our children’s first and most important teachers, and children are always watching the adults around them for information about how they should act. If you do not want your children involved in gossip, make sure they don’t hear you gossiping. If you want your children to stand up for others, make sure they do see you doing that. If you want your kids to think about the “right thing” and not necessarily the easy thing, make sure to give them examples in your actions. And discuss your thoughts and actions with your kids. Why did you act as you did? What was hard for you? What did you do “the right thing” even though it wasn’t the easy thing? Why is that important to you?
Doing the right thing is not always easy (in fact, it’s often very hard), but it what helps us all in our collective mission to make the world a better place. By engaging our children in this mission at a young age, we can inspire them to act with integrity.