Dr. King’s point

Published 10:15 pm Monday, January 15, 2018

By Joe Bass

This month we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. In his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963, he famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Unfortunately, after 53 years, Americans continue to focus on the color of people’s skin instead of character.

Email newsletter signup

What is “character”? One dictionary defines the word as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive in an individual.” A person can have “good” or “bad” distinctive qualities.

Dr. King’s dream-world is one in which a person’s qualities will be judged without regard to skin color.

How does a family and society foster the development of “good” or “bad” character?  Clearly parenting is a major factor. Several aspects of family dynamics help or hinder the process.

One family dynamic, particularly, influences character development. It has to do with providing children, from an early age, responsibilities and helping them understand how their actions cause either “good” or “bad” results. Children are given age-appropriate responsibilities. Parents praise them for doing the right things. When children do wrong things, parents allow them to learn through the natural, negative consequences.

Too often, some parents never provide these important learning opportunities. Their children rarely develop good character. Most often, they develop bad character. They do not perform well in school, employment or life in general.  And, of course, this is true regardless of skin color. And that is Dr. King’s point.

The following is a true story without names. It is an example of a talented white girl, eventually a woman, that never experienced responsibilities from an early age. As an 8-year-old, she and her two older sisters performed in show business disguised as adults with the help of falsified birth certificates. All of this was driven by a “helicopter mother” that gave up a promising singing career to get married and have children. The mother and older sisters sheltered the youngest. All she had to do was to dress as required, including hair style, and sing assigned songs.

At 16, she was a nationally known star. When she got old enough to attempt to break free from the regimented life, she didn’t have the knowledge or strength of character to succeed on her own.

After breaking away from her mother, she drifted and never took down roots in what she thought would be a successful solo-artist career. Interviews document that she was, as an adult, a fragile, insecure alcoholic, that conceived several children out of wedlock. As an adult she fell twice, probably in alcoholic stupors, and died from the second.

Her pattern in life is experienced by many in American society today because of inadequate parenting that does not provide children responsibilities nor praise them for successes or discipline for wrongful behavior. Too often parents excuse their children’s lack of personal successes based on assumptions that external behavior of others causes personal failures.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.