What do you stand for?

Kari Swanson

Paula P. Brownlee said, “To do good things in the world, first you must know who you are and what gives meaning in your life.”

Sounds simple? It should be, but it isn’t always. In our teen and adolescent years, we tend to try to figure out what makes sense to us in the world, what we agree and disagree with in respect to our parents’ views and world views.

Are we suppose to have this figured out by adulthood?

I have seen many people who feel lost in the world and one of the reasons is they lack a moral compass. That inner imaginary guide of what is right and wrong, instead they just drift along with whoever happens to be in their area adopting the views of the people with whom they surround themselves. When asked what they believe in, what do they stand for, what gives them passion and meaning, they look at me as if I just grew horns. Can you answer those questions?

Positive character traits are traits our parents try to instill in us — love, caring, respect, honesty, trustworthiness, responsibility, and fairness. We make choices daily in our lives with respect to what clothes we will wear, what food we will intake that day and with whom we will spend our time. We choose whether to be friendly, happy or grumpy and either attract friends or drive them away. Can we, as a society, really choose to not be honest, not value human life or more simply, not push our brakes at a stoplight? What happens when core values and morals become optional? Look at our prison system.

General Douglas MacArthur said, “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”

In other words, every nation that decays morally — without changing — faces disaster. Positive character traits are good for a nation, good for a family, and good for individuals.

Positive character traits are linked to our conscience, moral convictions, beliefs, personal experiences, upbringing, rights and responsibilities; to your culture and its laws and expectations; and, to your relationships with yourself, others and the world. Many of your traits probably coincide with the beliefs and practices of other people you admire and appreciate, people you may see as role models. Developing positive character traits means you respect yourself, others and the world.

What happens if you don’t stand for something? If you don’t have convictions, opinions rooted in a deep passion for a belief? There’s a song whose chorus is, “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” True words. If you don’t know what you stand for, you certainly do not know what you don’t stand for and that can lead to disaster. Knowing what you stand for makes you confident and accepting of yourself.

Knowing what you care about, what you believe in, does not mean you have to debate the issue with the intent on changing the minds of those who have differing views. It means that you can stand firm on the ground of your belief and not be easily swayed.

If a person has a belief that he/she does not believe in drinking before the age of 21, then he/she will have a harder time being persuaded to drink than someone who does not have a belief, opinion, or conviction of this. This is a simple example, but it gives you an idea.

Knowing what is important to you and why.

For example, it is important to me not to mess up my chances of getting that football scholarship by getting busted for underage drinking. It is important for me not to let my parents down if I were to get in trouble for underage drinking. These are convictions with reasons Getting into the school I want to play football for is important to me and not disappointing my parents is important to me. If you don’t have reasons behind what you believe or what is important to you it makes it harder to stand behind it. Some people’s reasons behind not drinking are simply having been exposed to it growing up and not wanting that to be a part of their lives moving forward. That’s a belief with a reason.

We live in a society where it feels as if “everything goes,” and if you don’t support someone else’s views or beliefs then something is wrong with you, and you “need to get with the times.”

This can be confusing, especially for the older generation where their values and core beliefs did not have a lot of gray area when they were growing up. Even though things have changed with respect to what society seems to believe and what is “politically correct,” individuals can still have beliefs and values that differ from the norm or the whole. More importantly, individuals need to have beliefs and values that differ from the norm or the whole otherwise we have all become robots programmed by a master.

I remember an activity my dad used to do with me when I was growing up. I did not realize at the time that it was an activity in teaching me to hold my ground, have an opinion, and defend that opinion. At the time, honestly, I thought he was being mean and a jerk. Sorry, dad J. He would engage in a conversation with me in which he would ask a question about something that would elicit a view from me and then he would play devil’s advocate to see if I could hold my own in light of him taking a differing view. Sometimes this ended well, and sometimes not. But it did teach me to realize what I believed, think about why I believed it, and could I tactfully defend my position with someone who differed.

This was an amazing character-building thing my dad did and I believe it truly helped form the person I am today.

I do have strong beliefs in some areas, am able to know where these beliefs were formed and can back my beliefs non-aggressively.

More importantly, I am also able to respect other people’s beliefs and opinions.

I ask you again, what do you stand for? What is important to you? What character traits ooze from you when others are around you but not in an aggressive manner? If this is difficult for you then explore this further.

Stand for something because, if you don’t, you will fall for anything.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.


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