Friday, October 13, 2023

I'm Batman

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "(A)action is character." 

As has often been the case, this artists was just asserting something that modern scientists are now confirming: not only do our actions reveal who we are, they also become who we are. In other words, neuroscience and sociological research are finding that when we act kindly (even if we don't feel kind), when we act courageously (even if we don't feel courageous), when we act generously (even if we don't feel generous), the more habitual and natural those behaviors become until, before we know it, we are the kind, courageous, generous person we aspire to be.

Of course, we don't need scientists to tell us that this is true when it comes to negative habits, so why wouldn't it work with virtuous ones?

Young children don't worry about what kind of person they are, let alone what kind of person they will become, even as we adults worry about it on their behalf. Indeed, much of what passes for parenting or teaching falls into this category. We worry that the child who hits another child will grow up to be violent. We worry that a child who snatches toys from another child will grow up to be selfish. We worry that a child who climbs too high, runs too fast, or hurls their body into the fray willy nilly, will grow up to be foolhardy. We scold or punish or forbid or otherwise seek to teach them the right habits. By the same token, when a child is gentle with their friends or thoughtful or generous, we reward or praise them all the while crossing our fingers that the cruel world doesn't victimize them.

When a child puts on a cape and says they are Batman, they are not aspiring: they are Batman. They stand in their power pose, strong, brave, heroic and a champion of those in need. In the very next moment they may crumple to the ground in tears, a baby who needs its mommy. We're all this way throughout our lives. The idea that character is fixed is a myth. Oh sure, we may have been shy or anxious or melancholy for a long time, we may need a therapist or even medications to help us, but in the end, the way to something better will not begin with feeling or thinking differently, but rather with acting like Batman. Of course, as adults, we may not be able to become Batman all at once. But if we can, each day, starting small, engage in a small act of heroism (or whatever), then do it again and again, the more natural it becomes. We will slowly become capable of bigger and bigger acts of heroism, until . . . Well, no one is Batman all day long, not even Batman, but the more we will feel and think like Batman. We do this through action.

I'm not saying this is an easy thing to do, but becoming the person we want to be will never happen if we wait until we feel like that person. Action is character. The rest will follow.

We worry too much about the children, I think, and not enough about ourselves. There is a tendency to see ourselves, both individually and as a society, as too far gone to be saved, our character is already set, but maybe this child or this generation will be the one that finally gets it right. Too many of us seem to think that if we do our parenting and teaching jobs just so, according to this method, or with this or that attitude, then we will be able to produce future humans who are kind, courageous, and generous. We see it all the time in public policy when we turn to schools to fix the poverty, bigotry, ignorance, and violence that pervade our society, when the problem isn't with the kids, it's with us. It's us that have to change. It's us that have to act even if we don't feel like it.

As Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." It's a truth that is being confirmed by science. It applies to individuals as well as the world at large. We can't do it for other people because no one can self-actualize for anyone other than themself. We can provide for basic needs and safety, we can love them and let them know they belong, we can even support them in feeling good about themselves. And a just society would provide all those things for all people. But when it comes to character, when it comes to becoming, that is the part that each of us must do for ourselves. That's what a child is doing when they declare, "I'm Batman!" We can all do it and it starts today, right now, with one small act of heroism, even if we don't feel like it.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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