Lately, I've been wondering a lot about nature vs. nurture. I've also been thinking about what makes one person strive, and another person complacent.
I read an article about Andree Peel, a French spy for the Resistance during World War II. In the article, Andree said, "I was born brave. I just acted and did what I thought was the right thing." She risked her life, and gave her all to save others during the war. What makes a person perform such earnest service for others? There were people, during the war, who quietly waited for it to end, took few risks, and survived. As a teacher, I see students that give their all on every assignment. They approach even simple tasks with energy and enthusiasm. And, they seem to possess a desire to give 100 percent. There are other children who are content to just relax and take a less intense route. What accounts for this difference? Is one born a "natural striver"?
In our family, I always felt that we needed to do our best. Often, I knew that I wasn't doing my best in school. I didn't apply myself, unless it was to a task that I loved or understood. But, there was always an understanding that "Hansens had Standards". This idea was modeled for me by my parents daily. My father has never NOT done his best. Even the simplest tasks are approached with the highest effort. Sometimes it's exhausting to watch. Growing up, it was the highest kind of example: a job worth doing was a job worth doing well. My mother always wanted to do everything herself. She needed to know that tasks were done correctly. Every job had a "right way" of doing it. With this level of intensity in our home, it was hard not to believe that being a Hansen meant something. We cared how things turned out in our family.
My three siblings are extraordinary people. I love and admire them. They have chosen spouses that match and complement their good qualities. So, it is a pleasure to watch their children, from the sidelines, the results of their parenting. I can say, without bragging, that my nieces and nephews are some of the finest young people I've known. They seem to always do the right thing. They love the assorted professions and activities which they have chosen, and they seem to be trying their hardest with the challenges that they face. My niece once teased me by saying, "Looks like you're not in it to win it, Auntie Kor." That's a teenager with high expectations.
So, how do we inspire youngsters to strive? Exactly how is it done? I think it's nature and nurture together. Most children really can care, if the task is interesting, it's in their nature as curiosity seekers. But, that is not enough. Leading by example is critical. If you want to inspire, you've got to be inspiring. Being an exemplar of having a strong work ethic affects those with whom you come in contact. I had a student in my third grade class, who was actively being taught a strong work ethic by her mom. Sometimes, it was hard to watch, because the mom held the bar very high. Conversations with this student during third grade, and up until her fifth grade promotion, lead me to understand the changes that her mom's example had made. I watched the child become a confident and excellent student. In fact, I watched her self esteem grow, visibly. After her fifth grade promotion, this student brought me a flower, and thanked me for our friendship. But, I was the grateful one, because I was able to watch a transformation.