Friday, August 2, 2013

Character -v- Personality

Today I caught myself saying "I've never worked so hard in my life, and never been less stressed."  It's a strange dichotomy really isn't it?  Many people believe it's overwork that leads to stress, however my mother always used to say to me "Hard work never killed anyone, it's stress that does that."  As I thought more about what I'd said, I started to realize that one of the most important reasons for not being stressed is that at my very busy and intense school I am valued and I feel that the hard work is making a difference.  I also think it is a lot to do with the people I work with and with my own perception of my life and school.

Many people find India a tough place.  Of course they recognize the culture, but for some it's difficult to live here.  As I drove back from the airport to my apartment on Tuesday morning in the pouring monsoon rain, however, the thing that struck me most about India was how full of "real life" it is.   Stephen Covey wrote:
We must look at the lens though which we see the world, as well as the world we see, and the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.
This quote comes from the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People".  I picked up this book again recently and wondered if the habits apply equally to highly effective schools.  However before I get onto that, I want to write about the difference between the character ethic and the personality ethic, which Covey also discusses in his book.  The character ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living and that success comes from integrating these into their character. These characteristics are things like integrity, humility, courage, justice and so on (some of which appear to align well with the IB Learner Profile).  Recently, however, the character ethic appears to have been eclipsed by the personality ethic, with public image, attitudes, behaviours and so on being more important to success.  One of the joys of arriving at ASB last summer was our very first all school orientation meeting.  In previous schools I'd had to listen to boring speeches about how "excellent" the IB or AP scores were (even when they weren't really very impressive at all in some places) and lots of hype about how the school was "one of the best international schools in the world" (which plainly wasn't true).  Last year was very different.  We talked about our core values.  We talked about practice, perseverance and reflection.  We talked about being thought leaders and change agents.

I've thought about how the personality ethic and the character ethic can affect the cultures in schools.  For example in some schools you can get by if you "play the game".  These are places where the personality ethic is valued, there is a lot of emphasis on behaviour and attitudes, and where you can do well by paying lip-service to the things that are the latest buzzwords.  And reading Covey's book again, one sentence really stood out to me:  what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.  We respect people, we work well with them, because we trust them as people:  we trust their characters.

Now in some schools there is a lot of talk about getting the right people onto the right seat in the right bus and so on.  What Covey talks about is social paradigms.  He gives the analogy of using the wrong map and being frustrated in trying to find your destination.  In this situation, behaviour (trying harder) and attitude (thinking positively) will still not get you to the right place.  Covey writes about the maps that are in our heads - are they maps of the way things are (realities), or are they maps of the way things should be (values)?  This is an interesting question isn't it?  The basic problem with the cult of personality is that changing outward attitudes and behaviours does little good in the long run if the paradigms (maps) are wrong.  In fact he points out that every significant breakthrough in science was a break with the old way of thinking, with the old paradigms.

I feel we have got it right at ASB.  We value change and we value character.  Plus I don't think we are reading the wrong map - in fact I think we are drawing the map!

Photo Credit: Wondering Grubb via Compfight cc

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