There are only two C’s in “character,” but one can find many words that begin with C in describing good, positive character traits and behaviors. I’ve compiled a few C words that show the attributes of character.
1. Caring: Two important synonyms are “compassion” and “empathy.” Robert Krzaric wrote in The Greater Good’s e-newsletter that caring-empathy is one’s “ability to step into another person’s shoes, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions.” Most importantly, he notes that new research suggests that caring-empathy is “a habit we can cultivate.”
2. Choice: Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by chance, nor does it happen by circumstance. It happens by choice. One of my favorite character education authors, Hal Urban, reminds us that no matter what the circumstances — “people, places, times, things, conditions” — your choices determine your actions and behaviors, not the circumstances. Somewhere in this C word, I sense virtues like respect, responsibility, perseverance.
3. Citizenship: Two social studies specialists once wrote that the purpose of schooling is not to help people be better off, but to be better scholars, citizens and workers. They noted that a multicultural society needs roots. These roots, they said, are described in our founding documents, in our symbols and slogans, and in our personal and public civic virtues. Our schools, therefore, are called to educate the young to uphold (and sometimes challenge) core virtues such as trustworthiness, fairness, patriotism, justice, courage, responsibility, respect and honesty.
4. Common sense: “Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason. He is survived by his four stepbrothers I Know My Rights, I Want It Now, Someone Else Is To Blame, I Am a Victim.” (CS Obituary printed in the London Times, date and author unknown)
5. Company: “Character is how you behave in response to the company (peer groups, friends, family) you keep, seen and unseen,” according to psychologist Robert Coles in “The Call of Stories.” Who are the virtuous, the responsible agents, the moral teachers, and the positive role models that keep company with our young people? Is it their peer group, the entertainment industry, the Internet, Facebook, YouTube?
6. Conscience: From the B.C. comic strip Pearls of Wisdom: “A conscience is what hurts when everything else feels great.” No need for further comment.
7. Consequences: The penalty we pay or the internal-external rewards we receive from the choices we make. Behaviors have consequences — some positive, some negative. People make mistakes, including people of good character. But these people have what might be called “character strengths.” They hold themselves accountable, take responsibility, pay the consequences, learn from their mistakes and do not repeat them.
8. Courage: As adults, we know our courage is tested daily. The young can be taught to meet the personal and social challenges to do the right thing; to stand up for their own and other’s rights; to make difficult decisions particularly when such decisions may not be easy or popular; and to have the courage to say “no” when invited to cheat, bully, harass or be unfair, impolite or disrespectful to others. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Ed DeRoche is the recipient of Character.org’s 2015 Sanford N. McDonnell Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a former teacher, administrator, school board member, and dean. Currently he is the director of the Character Development Center at the University of San Diego and teaches in-class and online courses on instructional strategies, curriculum and programs, and character-based classroom management.