The Virtue of Temperance (Self-Control)

October is bully prevention month across our nation. As our culture grows more aware of the emotional impact of bullying, I believe educators and parents have taken the behaviors far more seriously. As a Christian school, we want to cultivate the hearts of our children to have a posture of love and concern for everyone, but we face the same challenges as our public school counterparts. For many of us, this is disconcerting. We work very hard as parents to train our children to be considerate and well-behaved, yet they continue to fight with their siblings and others.

It is important for us to recognize that the same forces that wage war within us are waging war in our children—but at a much less refined level. As adults we have regulators within our souls that tell us, “if you act in the way you want to right now, you will not be liked or you might get in trouble.” The flesh of an adult has learned the art of upholding societal norms because it pays off. Additionally, those who have trusted in Christ have the added resource of the Holy Spirit at work in us.

In the prevention of bullying, it helps to have a proactive as well as a reactive plan for growing our children. One proactive approach to help prevent bullying is to teach our children virtue. Historically, virtue has been understood as those characteristics that people of noble character possess. The four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and courage are those often found in the characters in literature that we seek to follow. The early church added the three Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity (love) to those accepted by most cultures. I encourage parents to organize their moral training of children around these seven virtues because they cover most of the behaviors we hope to see as well as providing counter-examples to those behaviors we hope to extinguish.

In addressing bullying at Calvary, the virtue of temperance is worth highlighting. Another word for temperance is self-control. The ability to control one’s self is a difficult task for some students, however, it is the lack of restraint (running over other children, bonking heads because we are not careful, or blurting out a mean comment) that frequently leads to what I would call pre-bully behavior. The nice thing about couching these behaviors in the cardinal virtues is that we aren’t jumping the gun in naming a child “bully,” but we are holding him accountable to a standard of behavior. The cardinal virtues, while dealing with one’s heart, are more tied to self-discipline than to moral goodness or badness. Failure to be wise is not a sin, necessarily, but it is still foolish.

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