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Self-reliance and potential for excellence

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Editor's note: On the first Monday of each month, the Eyres share a "Value of the Month," a universal value that parents wish to teach to their children. This is the second in the series.

We see the value of self-reliance and potential as a principle of individuality. It is awareness and the development of gifts and uniqueness. It is taking responsibility for one's own actions. It is overcoming the tendency to blame others for difficulties. It is commitment to personal excellence.

Let us illustrate with a story: Our 15-year-old daughter, true to her age, her hormones and her nature, had spent the evening alternating between hot anger, cool sullenness, agitated irritation at other family members and woeful, sorrowful withdrawal.

"I'm going to flunk math because the teacher is so weird. He never explains anything. He grades way too hard. He never calls on me when my hand is up. I don't care anyway — grades are way too important to most people. Actually, it's my brothers and sisters who are ruining my grade. They're so loud and noisy, I can't study around here. Forget about an A. A B- is OK. It's not best, but it's good, and no one should be dissatisfied with good. If you'd been around more to help me study, maybe I wouldn't be in this mess."

It was a not-so-rare collection of statements illustrating self-criticism and the blaming of others that goes on so often with some adolescents.

But it wasn't our daughter's truest self. We had learned that at such moments there was little to do but wait for that truer inner self to emerge.

It finally did, about 10:30 that night.

"I'm sorry, Mom and Dad. That was stupid. It's my class and it's my grade. It's my own fault about the last test. I'll go and see if I can make it up. I know I have the ability to do better."

Jekyll and Hyde?

So many adolescents are.

The challenge for parents is to encourage the Jekyll and help it win over the long run.

There are two separate but closely related principles involved here.

The first is the self-reliance of accepting the responsibility for and the consequences of one's own actions and performance, rather than blaming luck or circumstances or someone else.

The second is trying to be one's best self and asking the best from oneself — the conscious pursuit of individuality and potential — and the conscious rejection of avoidable mediocrity.

"Self-reliance and potential," as we have called it, is a powerful value.

Those who have it help others by accepting responsibility and doing their best in the world. Those who don't have it hurt others by blaming them and by failing to develop the gifts and talents that could serve or enlighten or benefit other people.

One who reaches his potential helps others in many ways as he develops himself. One who never seeks his full potential indirectly hurts others by not doing the good or setting the example he is capable of.

This value is about trying to know ourselves, to do our best, and to accept the consequences both of who we are and of what we do.

One way to think of self-reliance and potential is as two sides of the same coin. Self-reliance has a lot to do with taking the blame or the responsibility for negative things that happen.

Potential has a lot to do with taking a little credit and taking the right kind of pride in what we are able to become and what we are able to accomplish.

When we take blame and responsibility, we resolve and grow and improve. When we don't, we become bitter, jealous and defensive.

When we take positive pride in what we're doing with ourselves and our gifts, we feel the growth of individuality and self-esteem. When we don't, we tend to become followers or plodders in the standard ruts of life.

Good luck if you choose to join with us in making this your value of the month for October. Simply focus on it and you will find many teaching opportunities along the way.

Richard and Linda are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.joyschools.com. Several of their books are now available for free on www.EyresFreeBooks.com.