Bernardo M. Villegas
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Character Training in Family Life (Part I)

           Christmas is one of the best times for every family to create a “bright and cheerful home”, using an expression of St. Josemaria Escriva.  Since Christmas started as early as last September, I hope that every Filipino family has since been emulating the Holy Family in the way they are able to create this attractive atmosphere at home, despite the absence of even the most basic necessities. Happiness is not all about “having” but about “being”:  being generous, humble, loving, gentle and caring, among other human virtues and values.

         I am glad that there is a significant increase of Filipino families traveling as tourists to Japan.  Not only are we fostering closer personal relations with our important neighbor to the north but those visiting Japan are rediscovering the importance of politeness and refinement in social relations.  At the time that we are getting the wrong examples from some of our leaders in uncouth language and behavior, it is important that we rediscover the social virtues for which the Japanese are famous.  In fact, from many of my friends who have recently toured Japan, I get an almost unanimous assessment about the exemplary politeness that they observed in the ordinary Japanese from all walks of life. I am reminded of my childhood days during the Japanese occupation in the early 1940s when my parents befriended some Japanese officers who frequently visited our home.  Their very refined behavior contrasted starkly with the brutal acts their foot soldiers committed towards the end of the occupation.  These soldiers were not Japanese but generally uneducated farmers recruited from one of their colonies.

         The social virtues of the Japanese are nurtured in the family.  As can be gleaned from the literature in the internet about Japanese child rearing practices, the Japanese have traditionally approached childrearing as one would care for a plant that requires careful nurturing, watering and pruning for it to grow.  Their “shitsuke” discipline is aimed at developing good manners and courtesy through repeated instruction and practice.  This instruction is imparted by several generations since three or more generations often live in the same household.  Japanese parents drill into their children from the start to always think of people and act accordingly, to help keep the peace, above all. Parents are determined to pass on their values to their children.  Despite the rapid industrialization and modernization that the Japanese society has undergone, the human virtues related to courtesy and refinement have been sustained from one generation to another.

         This traditional practice in Japanese families follows closely what Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical “The Joy of Love.”  Under the heading “Family Life as an Educational Setting,” the Pope stresses that the first school of human values, where we learn the wise use of freedom, is the family.  We have also seen this in traditional Filipino families from all social levels.  Certain ways of behaving develop in childhood and become so deeply rooted that they remain throughout life, either as attractions to a particular value or a natural repugnance to certain ways of doing things.  As the Pope wrote:  “Many people think and act in a certain way because they deem it to be right on the basis of what they learned, as if by osmosis, from their earliest years:  ’That’s how I was taught,” “That’s what I learned to do.”  In the family we can also learn to be critical about certain messages sent by the various media.  Sad to say, some television programmes or forms of advertising often negatively influence and undercut the values inculcated in family life.”

         In fact, as have been demonstrated in the Tambuli Awards annually given by the School of Marketing Communications of the University of Asia and the Pacific, the advertising or marketing messages that have the greatest impact on values formation of the population are those that reinforce what families have been passing on from one generation to another, such as generosity and concern for others, care for the sick and the aged, politeness and courtesy and respect for elders.  Those who are concerned about the bad examples being given by leaders and celebrities to the youth should go out of their way to support commercials and marketing campaigns that are anchored on values and virtues that are based on the very nature of man and are, therefore, universal and cut across different cultures and creeds. 

         A most important virtue that has to be especially taught within the family is that of hope.  According to Pope Francis:  “In our own day, dominated by stress and rapid technological advances, one of the most important tasks of families is to provide an education in hope. This education in hope is the antidote to the moral disease of “instant gratification.”  In fact, I relate this to the alarming spread of suicidal attempts among university students in some of our campuses.  Young people easily fall into despair when they cannot get instant gratification.  As the Pope wrote:  “This does not mean preventing children from playing with electronic devices, but rather finding ways to help them develop their critical abilities and not to think that digital speed can apply to everything in life.  Postponing desires does not mean denying them but simply deferring their fulfilment.  When children or adolescents are not helped to realize that some things have to be waited for, they can become obsessed with satisfying their immediate needs and develop the vice of ‘wanting it all now’.  This is a grand illusion which does not favor freedom but weakens it.”

            In fact, the strength of will to postpone gratification can contribute significantly to avoiding teenage pregnancies.  Young people who want it all now will hardly have the capacity to avoid premarital sex.  It is within the family that young people learn to control their passions:  “… when we are taught to postpone some things until the right moment, we learn self-mastery and detachment from our impulses.  When children realize that they have to be responsible for themselves, their self-esteem is enriched.  This in turn teaches them to respect the freedom of others.  Obviously, this does not mean expecting children to act like adults, but neither does it mean underestimating their ability to grow in responsible freedom.  In a healthy family, this learning process usually takes place through demands made by life in common.”   (To be continued.)