Character Building - Democratic Responsibility
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
MOST unspoiled children are little democrats. What people wear, what they know, what they possess, affect the small child very slightly. He judges of strangers by what they are in their relation to him. He marks them with the stamp of his approval or disapproval because of what, in his inner self, he feels them to be.
It is not until the boy and girl have been taught to estimate persons by externals that they begin to differentiate between the rich and the poor, the well-dressed and the ragged.
This democratic spirit is not to be injudiciously curbed. It is too precious a thing for us to crush by directing the child's notice to that outward appearance which counts for nothing. Call his attention instead to the attributes in his acquaintances which are the evidences of an inward and spiritual grace-such as truthfulness, gentleness, kindness, unselfishness.
The question "With whom shall my child associate?" has been asked with grave uneasiness by many a mother. Yet this is a matter that time settles if the boy or girl has the proper home training. Water will seek its level, and children will eventually choose associates that appeal to their tastes as developed in the home. But first of all you must be prepared and willing to have the child meet all the children who happen to be in his school, or who play on his street. We mothers cannot shield our sons and daughters from contact with rough, and even vulgar, persons. All that we can do is to prepare them by the principles taught and practised in the home to seek the good and eschew the evil. We know there are some mothers who shrink from public schools because here their children will meet "all kinds." They should meet all kinds; it is only fair that they do so. But if they have been taught to love purity, they will shrink from the impure comrade; if they have learned the beauty of truth, they will not make an intimate of a liar. You, the mother, cannot pick and choose for them. It is well to encourage your child to bring his playmates to his home that you may meet them. By this practice one mother has proved that her son will not make an intimate of the boy whom he is not willing to have his mother and sisters know, and that her daughter will not choose as a chum the girl whose principles are so lax that she is out of place in the home where honor is taught and lived.
As the child grows more observant with each year added to his age, discourage his judgment of people by their clothes or possessions. To allow such judgment will make a snob of him, and will develop the love of show rather than the appreciation of what is good and praiseworthy. Teach him that the son of the day-laborer may not have had so many advantages as the son of the rich man, and that, therefore, he deserves all the more praise when he does well. Let him understand that all mankind are his brothers and that if he has more privileges of various sorts than less fortunate people he should do more with his life than they may be able to do with theirs, and that he should make that life so helpful that those who have had fewer opportunities may be the better and happier for his existence. Train him to understand that, after all, character is all that counts, and that it makes little difference what are a man's clothes, what kind of house he has, and what kind of food he eats, if those clothes are clean, the house is an orderly home, and the food is bought with honestly earned money.
Many excellent little stories and poems which emphasize this quality are found in Volume I: "The Rats and Their Son-in-Law," "The Wren and the Bear," "Johnny and the Golden Goose," "The Haughty Princess," "The Good Time Coming," and "For a' That and a' That." "Robin Hood" and "William Tell" in Volume II are great democratic heroes. For the highest interpretation of the word " democracy " read "Toussaint L'Ouverture" and "True Americanism" in Volume VII, and "Daniel Webster" and "Alexander Hamilton" in Volume I.X. In Volume XI turn to "Lady Clare" and "The Heritage" among other fine poems.