Character Building - Loyalty To Principles And Ideals
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
LOYALTY has been defined as "devoted allegiance." The average child is naturally devoted to those whom it loves, to those who minister to its physical wants, to those who are kind to it. This is perhaps mere instinct, for it is shown in the dumb animals. The dog will defend his master to the death; the patient horse will carry his owner until the beast drops in his tracks. Beautiful as such instinctive fidelity is, it is absolutely different in quality from the more noble loyalty to principles and ideals.
While the child is young he is trained to obey because one whom he loves and has always obeyed tells him to do so. But by the time he is twelve years of age he must have been taught that one must do right for right's sake, and with each year added to his life he must form higher ideals and believe more firmly in them. To be truthful because truth is beautiful and falsehood is shameful; to be pure because impurity is a foul sin against God and humanity; to be kind because there is much suffering in the world and each of us should do a share toward lessening the sum of human suffering-these are the motives that must actuate the older child to do right. The sense of personal honor lies at the root of all noble character and action.
"I envy you!" sighed an unbelieving woman to a Christian mother. "You have some higher principle than man-made laws to defer to. You can say to your son, `Thus saith the Lord.' You can tell him, `Your God forbids you to do so-and-so.' "
We surely can teach the child that there is in every human being a spark of the divine, and that it is a great sin to quench that spark. It should be fed and allowed to burn more brightly day by day until the whole character shall glow with the light of truth and unselfishness, and the world be made better for one's having lived in it.
The boy or girl should be urged to form an ideal of the man or woman each is capable of becoming. What is admired in other people can be emulated; what is not admirable, avoided. Each should feel accountable to the ideal thus formed. Kipling has struck the right chord when he speaks of an un-worthy action as "one of the things no fellow can do." Such is the act that the lad cannot do and be true to his ideal of perfect manhood. We heard a young man acknowledge, "I was ashamed to look at my face in the glass after I told that lie. I had made my better self ashamed of me."
Expect the best of your young people. Tell them that it is a comfort to you to know that they always stand for what is honorable and true. Encourage them to read the lives of men who have lived and men who have died for honor's sake, and the right as they saw it.
A great triumph has been gained for the parent when the child feels that he has to account to his ideal self for his wrong-doings. One boy was broken of the tendency to be uncandid by being told that he had reached the age when equivocation would hurt his own character more than it could hurt any one else, even those who loved him best; that in the future he would not be punished by his parents for untruths, for the worst punishment he could ever have would be to look at his own heart and know that he had blackened it by hypocrisy and deceit. The thought brought about a revolution in a nature that had hitherto been careless. The youth felt suddenly and keenly that he had a higher self to which he was accountable.
If a child has been taught, as he should be, to scorn cowardice, he will scorn to be ashamed of a principle. Ridicule is a powerful weapon and one that is hard to stand against. Therefore impress upon the mind of the growing boy or girl that the person who will ridicule another person's principles is beneath contempt, and that the man who stands firm and loyal to his principles, even in the face of ridicule, has won a battle over cowardice in himself and vulgarity in others.
"An Old Man's Comforts" in Volume I is an old-fashioned poem worth knowing in this connection. In Volume II "Perseus" and "Sir Galahad and the Sacred Cup" are splendid stories built on loyalty to ideals. By all means read the simplified version of "Pilgrim's Progress" in Volume III. Take Volume VII and read almost at random; surely read "The Defense of Leyden" and "Scott in Adversity." The section "Good Citizenship" also contains stimulating essays on that phase of the question. In Volume VIII see the scientists exemplifying this great quality, Newton in "Light and Its Uses" and Röntgen in "X-Ray Photography." Study the American patriots in Volume IX, as well as "Cromwell" and "Martin Luther." An excellent essay is " Justice and Truth" in Volume X.