Character Is More Than Achievement

OPINION: There's been a lot of chat about Christchurch's identity. What do we stand for? Who are we? In an ideal world, it seems to me that identity celebrates the past but also recognises the present and what will be required in the future.

The whole question of identity is something that is central to us as human beings. It's a topic I've been talking about a lot with the boys at Christ's College, where I'm director of the wellbeing and positive education programme we launched last year.
What we do know, from the wellbeing work we've been doing, is that a sense of identity is really important to the boys. They want to be true to themselves but their values and beliefs are being constantly challenged – and often by their peers, that group they hold so dear.
I think for teenagers, their identity is often very closely tied into their peer group, what sport they play, what musical instrument, or whether they're good academically.

So what do they do if their identity doesn't quite fit with the group? That's a real challenge for them.
I like to ask the kids – 'what do you care about?' When I was 15 or 16, what I cared about was my friends, where the next party was and what I liked at school. With social media today, there are so many different senses of who you're meant to be – there's no real clarity around it.

For young men, in particular, they're often not quite sure of what it looks like to be a young man. There are so many different aspects. What sexual orientation you are. What your beliefs are. What your values are. We need to try and get our young men to be comfortable in the identity they relate to and that can be challenging because there are a lot of barriers. The Kiwi bloke identity is traditionally very much about rugby, racing and beer. I'm not suggesting we completely erase that but it's about expanding on that and giving our young men a better vision. Their rites of passage are still often firmly fixed around drinking, driving, having sex; the things that we know the kids are going to do at some stage but we don't want their identities tied into that kind of stuff.
So it's about giving them better things to identify with and helping them to understand that who they are is not inextricably linked to what they do. In my experience, a lot of our young men have their identity tied into what they do – for instance, a good rugby player and a top rower. But we actually want a bit more substance around their identity and what they stand for. This means that it's not only what they achieve, but who they become along the way. Years ago we valued people for their character, their perseverance and determination, their leadership, their caring. Now we hold up someone who's kicked a goal in a World Cup but we don't always talk about the character they showed.

We need to ask our young men and women – what does character look like? What does success look like? Success isn't always winning or achieving; success is about bouncing back when things are hard.
There are many forms of success, there are many ways of winning. You don't always have to be first. If we don't push these messages in school, then we'll sell our kids short.
Education isn't just about two plus two equals four. We've got to teach our kids how to manage when two plus two just doesn't add up. What do they do when they get a different answer from the one they expected?

The key thing about identity is understanding what drives it. We say someone is a great musician, but we don't talk about the perseverance it takes to get there. We label the outcome, we don't always label the process to get there. Identity is tied into the characteristics you can grow on the journey.

A strong cultural identity is also important to a young person's holistic mental health and wellbeing.
Having a strong sense of their own cultural history and traditions helps to build a positive cultural identity for themselves, gives them a sense of belonging and self-esteem and supports their overall wellbeing. This is a vital resilience factor; being resilient helps a person with having the ability to bounce back from adversity whenever life challenges arise.

John Quinn is director of the wellbeing and positive education programme at Christ's College. Wiremu Gray is the counsellor at Christ's College.



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