GENE ROBERTSON: Managing the personal character survival kit

Thursday, July 7, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:38 p.m. CST, Monday, November 21, 2011

We possess a personal survival kit, which we can rely on during any catastrophe or opportunity.

Even if we lose all of our worldly goods, this kit is with us. It is functional for all of our needs.

I noticed my daughter exhibiting an inclination toward superficiality, so I challenged her preference for things, amounts and titles by asking her how she would want to be remembered. Based on her recent release from 10 years of braces, she replied that she wanted to be remembered as pretty. My response was, “Is that all?”

She was puzzled by my dissatisfaction with her response. Many others of us might have responded with “my big house, cars, bank account, family, friends, associates,” or other tangible possessions. What if these are gone in a flood, tornado or earthquake? What do we have?

I wanted my daughter to see and appreciate the value of the perceived intangibles that she possessed. These valued attributes include character, which consists of stoicism, kindness, tolerance, unselfishness, honesty, humility, respectfulness, loyalty, life-affirming courage, creativity, integrity and gratefulness. There are other attributes such as disipline, love, curiosity, rigor, intelligence, an inclination for innovation and unity, perseverance, a sense of humor and optimism. Others could be included. They are mobile, eternal and essential to any context.

These attributes that we possess are our personal survival kit. There is little room for superficialities in it. Our kit enables us to impact the world’s needs, as was done in Joplin, Haiti, New Orleans and Japan, as well as our local community and home. We are dependent on our kit when there is nothing tangible to rely on.

We must be careful how we hone it. It is incumbent on all of our institutions to use it in a positive manner so that, with our kit, we make the maximum impact.

We don’t have to be as despondent when communities or countries suffer incalculable material losses.  All of our citizens possess what I wanted my daughter to recognize, possess and value most: a strong positive survival kit.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.

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Ellie Funke July 7, 2011 | 11:31 a.m.

"a strong positive survival kit" I don't know if I always agree with you but this article is easy to love. While on my way to work this morning I was thinking along the same lines. I will share this with my kids and hope they feel strong with positive character traits.

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Verna Laboy July 12, 2011 | 10:13 a.m.

I would add that without the survival kit, we have nothing to sustain in those times of great loss when all that we have held onto was the "superficial". In times/moments of great loss, one needs "hope". Unless we possess the character builders in the survival kit of life that you mentioned above, we have that is a hopeless situation... I am in hopes that my 5 adult children, who are now parents themselves, possess those traits to pass on to their children...

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