Monday, October 30, 2006



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Hello friends,


It’s been a while since my last blog, I know, but I have been rather preoccupied with exams lately. I am nearly finished, one left in just over a week.

In the last few blogs I’ve been talking about values – more specifically, the values that make up the 6 pillars of the Character Counts foundation.


Now, the values we’ve examined already are Trustworthiness, Respect and Responsibility. I had said that I would say more about responsibility – perhaps I will, but not this time. Instead I would like to look at the “F” in TeRRiFiCC – for fairness. Now this is a very hard value to write about, in my opinion. On the face of it, it would seem straight forward, treat everybody the same, without discrimination or favour. Apportion everything equally. I would suggest that this is far too simplistic. I do not know if I have a complete handle on this issue of fairness, in fact I don’t think I do, but once again, not being one who has all the answers does not mean that I won’t try. Recently in South Africa they had something called “Heartlines” – 8 values – 8 weeks – join the conversation. That’s what I want – conversation. 


One way to think of fairness is “people get what they deserve or require.” – so, the employee must be paid a living wage, commensurate with his qualification, experience and input. On the other side of the coin, the employer can expect that tasks are done as efficiently as possible. Does fairness mean equality? That is one of the meanings ascribed to it in the dictionary I’ve consulted. If it’s a case of distributing candy / sweeties at a children’s party, it’s easy enough to be fair. When we introduce the concept of division to children at school, we make use of their keen sense of “fairness” when it comes to sharing. The communist vision was that everyone was equal and entitled to equal income and equal assets. They overthrew the aristocracy, who they accused of oppressing the masses. (They did too!) Then they ran the country. However, far from developing a classless society, a new “upper class” arose! The ruling class. Who was it who said: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely?” I think that sometimes, fairness does not imply equality. Sometimes, one person needs a bit more than another to make up for other deficiencies. Most governments pay out “disability grants” to disabled people, to help them cope with the added financial burden of having a disability. For example, a paraplegic person may be able to drive a car, but their car needs to be specially modified, as they cannot use their legs, so they require automatic transmission, and a brake that they can apply with their hand. Such a car will be more expensive than a normal car.  This is only one example of many ways a disabled person needs a bit extra. 


In South Africa, Affirmative Action rules the day. I chuckled when I read on a certain website form “BEE status” and if you clicked on the dropdown list, you were offered Black, Asian, Coloured, White, etc. In other words, they wanted to establish the race of the person filling in the form, but they could not ask straight out. BEE stands for Black Economic Enhancement, I think. Affirmative Action and BEE are described as means to redress injustices of the past. Affirmative action however can only work by discriminating against certain people on the basis of their race. I think it is taking the old apartheid and turning it on its head. Some may believe that Affirmative Action is fair, I don’t.


Another meaning attributed to “fair” in the dictionary is appropriate or acceptable. We have the idiom, “to give someone a fair hearing” meaning to give somebody a chance to give their side of the story before making judgments. This is important. Regardless of the issue at hand, we must always realise that there can be circumstances of which we are unaware, that have at the very least influenced the decisions or actions of another. If we are going to make judgments about other people, let’s be ready to hear the different perspective.  Another idiom is “to give somebody a fair crack of the whip.” This means to give somebody a chance to prove themselves in an activity. I have just written an exam on Assessment in Mathematics. Assessment is about giving the learner the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. This is very different to the perspective on assessment that many of us are used to, where, it was thought that role of tests was to try and trick us into making mistakes. The value of fairness means that if you are having a conversation with somebody else, you do not try to dominate that conversation but allow the others to have a fair crack of the whip and put their perspective across. Fairness means being willing to listen before you speak. In the context of family, it means allowing the youngest member to have his or her say too.


One other aspect of fairness that we need to look at is not so much in the area of receiving, but in the area of giving. No man is an island, entirely self sufficient in every aspect. The communities we live in all require things to be done in order for them to function. Now on a national and even a town village scale these responsibilities are apportioned to people who are paid to carry out these services, but when we come to the home and church or club or workplace, there are contributions that need to be made both in terms of finance and effort to make our the places we live in function. The RESPONSIBILITY that each person bears to contribute will differ according to the person’s age and abilities, but almost everyone (babies and toddlers excepting) can contribute to some degree. Fairness dictates that we each do our fair share. The church I belong to meets in a school hall, that is, of course, used by the school during the week, and by the church on a Sunday morning. This necessitates a weekly set up of all the chairs and equipment for the service and after the service is over, chairs need to be stacked up and put away again, and all the equipment too needs to be put away.  Our church has set-up teams, to which every male member of the church is signed up (as a matter of course.) It amounts to two Sundays in the year that a person has to get up earlier and start setting up, and stay a bit later to make sure that everything is put away. I wish I could say it works like a bomb, but the fact is that there are always those few, who will try and duck out of doing it. It is very frustrating for the team leaders who often have to do their week as well as their own. Even if your church does not have such an arrangement, or is fortunate enough to have its own building so that a weekly set up is not required, there are always things that are needed around the place, and if you notice the need and are in a position to help, why not just do it.


How about our homes. Everybody can make lives easier at home by doing their fair share. Do we always need to be asked to do something before we do it? If we are asked by a parent, a pastor or a teacher, to do something, do we do it cheerfully and to the best of our ability or do we make a lacklustre effort and with a sigh or a groan? Could you confidently say that you would respond in the same way if Jesus, personally, were to ask you to do it? You know what, He is. Now I share this with you, not as if I am better than you in this regard. Probably far from it. We all drag our heals from time to time, but the thing is, is it to the Greater Glory of God? Remember A. D. G. M. (See my blog for October 2005 )


 I have a book on Character Foundation that is aimed at teaching values to children from a Christian perspective. On Fairness, they refer to what is commonly referred to as “The Golden Rule.” Matthew 7:12 – Jesus is speaking the Sermon on the Mount. He said: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” To my mind, these words say all there needs to be said about Fairness. Think about all the implications of acting according to this maxim.


However the F in TeRRiFiCC could also stand for FORGIVENESS and also for  FAITHFULNESS. Hmmm… Maybe it should be TeRRiFFFiCC.

We mustn’t forget FRIENDLINESS.






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Sunday, October 01, 2006


Hello friends,


I am tempted to avoid this one altogether, as to be honest I think I get the lowest marks when it comes to responsibility, one of the six pillars of good character, and the one that is represented by the second R in the mnemonic TeRRiFiCC. We have dealt already with the T – Trustworthiness and the first R – Respect. Now we look at this topic of Responsibility. As I write this, I am going to have to take heed of what the Lord is saying to me through the things that are about to be brought to my mind. I can tell you that at this stage, I am tabula rasa – a blank sheet. So friends, as you read this, you might not have any issues or problems in this area, but spare a thought for those weaker vessels, such as myself. If however, you are like me, join me as I journey on this discovery and by all means, chip in, by emailing me. If you are receiving this by email, simply reply. For those who read my blog, you can write to .


Speaking of replying – The root word for Responsible is response. Response means Answer. So if someone is responsible, it means they can give an answer (or should be able to.) A synonym for responsible is Accountable. Like “respect”, Responsibility is hard to define outside of a context. We all have different levels of accountability in different situations and depending on your level of authority, and your maturity, you have certain amount of responsibility in every context of your life. Let me take for example a home. In that home, there are parents and children. Every home generates expenses such as, rates, utilities, food, clothing, education, etc. It is the responsibility of the breadwinner to ensure that all bills are paid and that expenditure does not exceed income. It is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that the home is kept safe for everyone in it. It is the parents’ responsibility to bring up the children so that they in turn can become responsible adults. It is the parents' responsibility to set appropriate boundaries for their children and to ensure that their children are well disciplined law-abiding people.


Last week has not been a good one in the US for violence in schools. First the man in Colorado who went in to Platte Canyon High School and took six hostages, and finally shot a 16 year old girl and then himself, then there is the young 15 year old lad who went into his Wisconsin school and shot the principal. He was arrested and has been charged as an adult for the murder. It has been said that he was upset about a reprimand he had received. Two very tragic events that are symptoms of a society that has  put more emphasis on rights, and not enough stress on RESPONSIBILITY.


Coming back to my example of the home, though parents bear the brunt of responsibility, children for their own good, should be given responsibilities too. Now here is where I walk on eggshells, as I cannot claim to have been exemplary in this regard. A child should be made responsible for keeping his room and belongings tidy and clean........ Hold on, while I go and make my bed!...... Well, now I can continue. Growing up, I was what my family and teachers would affectionately refer to as a loskop. I often mislaid personal belongings and drove my poor parents to distraction with the things I lost at school.  


What can I say?           SORRY, MUM & DAD !!!


So as one who has had to learn the hard way (and is still learning), take it from me, the earlier children learn responsibility, the better.


As I mentioned a bit earlier, children should learn to take responsibility. One area that should help children learn responsibility is HOMEWORK. I know, kids, that’s a dirty word – Homework.  All jokes aside, homework is a useful tool to help children develop a sense of responsibility. I read a newspaper article somewhere earlier this year, where the author was advocating that homework should be done away with. He justified his opinion with many arguments. However on reflection, I can honestly say I disagree. I'm sorry, I cannot recall the bibliographical details of the article – it was about 4 months ago that I saw it. If my memory serves me correctly one of his points was that when adults go to work they are not given homework, and it is irresponsible to bring the office home. I don’t know if that is always the case. Some types of work are impossible to do away from the workplace, but my guess is that many executives do not switch off when they leave the office and not think about anything work related until they return to the office. On the contrary, they are continually thinking about different issues that are worrying them. A medical doctor faced with a patient for whom he is struggling to reach a diagnosis will spend many hours researching and trying to identify the problem.. Engineers and architects will have various projects on their mind. Lawyers will be mulling over the cases that they are handling. I’m sure the same can be said of judges. For teachers, there is lesson preparation and marking that needs to be done, and there are simply not enough “working hours” to complete the tasks, given time constraints and deadlines. So the reality is that most people who enter the working environment will find that they DO have a certain amount of homework to do, even if it is self-imposed, so school homework DOES prepare learners for their adult working lives. The other thing I remember about that article was that the writer alleged that HOMEWORK interfered with family time. Well, I think that is a load of hooey! Firstly, responsible teachers give much thought to how they set homework and will not set an unreasonable amount that will burden the child. If your experience is different, I think you are well within your rights to take this matter up with the child’s teacher. Children are given homework assignments to develop their own understanding of the subject. Parents can, by all means, offer assistance and direction, but parents who do the work for their children ARE NOT BEING RESPONSIBLE, and their children only learn a way of avoiding responsibility. 


So how does homework help develop responsibility? Speaking now with the South African context in mind, a teacher will set a homework assignment and state clearly by when this task needs to be completed. The child should immediately write down the assignment in their homework notebooks. It is THEIR responsibility to take home from school the necessary textbooks or materials that they will need to do the task. They will also have to decide (though parents often make this decision for children), when they will work on the task so as to complete it in time.  Finally they will have to take it and submit it on time. When we think of the various excuses that emanate from learners that have not done their homework – and yes I used them too – it is clear that they are not taking responsibility for their homework. “I forgot about it.” – to which the teacher will probably ask why he or she had not written it in his or her homework book.. I heard recently that teachers are no longer allowed to detain pupils during break times to have them complete homework assignments not done when they should have been done. The mind boggles. Here is a perfect opportunity for a child to learn consequences for actions. DO HOMEWORK = have fun at break time. DON’T DO HOMEWORK = no fun at break time.


In the same way, small children should be held accountable for their small responsibilities, so that they learn while they are still young that irresponsibility leads to unpleasant consequences. 


Michael Josephson, the founder and director of Character Counts, in a recent commentary entitled Kids Today, wrote:

True, I can't always control what my kids do, but there'll be no ambiguity about my beliefs and expectations regarding behavior that bears on their character and long-term well-being. My kids will have no doubt that oral sex is really sex and that casual, no-strings-attached sex under the euphemisms "friendship with benefits," "bed buddies" or "hooking up" are unwise and wrong.

You may draw your lines at different places, but every parent must draw them and hold them. Our kids need and deserve guidance and boundaries.

If anyone would like to read Michael’s commentaries online or sign up to receive a weekly email, as I do, go to

We have a responsibility also to the environment. We can all think of ways in which we can either help or hurt the environment. We drastically need to address these matters.

We have a responsibility towards society. Some of these responsibilities are enforced by legislation, but others are a matters for our own consciences. Selfish individuals may think that they are getting away with it, but at the end of the day they will pay - in one way or another.

This morning at church, we did an unusual thing (in the context of church, that is) We had breakfast together. People brought food from home, put it on a central table. We had a time of worship and praise and we broke bread (had communion) and then we enjoyed a meal together sharing what we had, in the spirit of Acts 2:42. The man who led the "Breaking of Bread" brought very interesting scripture and illustration. He displayed the various ingredients to make brownies. He spoke about each one in turn emphasizing that alone they don’t taste so good (except Sugar, but that has other down-sides, like dental cavities, obesity, etc.) He said that some people are like a mouthful of dry flour. Others, like vanilla essence, can only taken in small doses; but when you put them together, subject them together to great heat, what emerges are wonderful tasty brownies. In the same way, God takes men, women and children, all very different, and mixes them together He then brings out this body of people who with God’s guidance, help us along. Somebody said to me, when you are in the body, and you allow the body to help you, you can overcome many different difficulties.

Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake the gathering together of the brothers. Psalm 133:1 Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity. In Gen 4, God asked Cain where Abel was (not that God did not know!) and Cain’s now infamous reply was “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In more modern terminology Cain was implying that he had no responsibility for his brother and did not care about where he was. In fact, Cain knew exactly what had become of Abel – He had killed him out of jealousy.  Back to the theme of responsibility – the message I get from the Bible is that we have a responsibility towards one another.

Love Your neighbour! When we read 1 Corinthians 13 we can see what that love means in practice. Gal 6:2 – bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. This is a responsibility. 

Jesus said, "My children, I will be with you only a short time more. You will look for me. And what I told the Jewish leaders, I tell you now: Where I am going you cannot come. "I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other like I loved you. All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other." John 13:33-35. 

How would anyone know that you love one another, unless it is a demonstrated love.

I am approaching 2000 words with this blog and so must stop, but I would like to address one more aspect of RESPONSIBILITY, namely, people’s tendency to shift responsibility onto someone else.....but that will have to be something for another day.

Once again – I’m sure you’ve got thoughts about this whole issue, and I invite, no, encourage you, to write to me about it.