When my son was three years old, he and I had a wonderful teachable moment while shopping. As we left the grocery store with our purchases, I realized that a greeting card I meant to buy had slipped down into the shopping cart. I hadn’t yet paid for it.
“Oh, we need to go back into the store” I said.
“Why?” my son asked.
“Because I didn’t pay for this birthday card for Grandma.”
“Oh. Is it expensive?”
“Well, then I bet the store won’t care if you just take it.”
“Yes, they will care. And besides, it doesn’t belong to me. I didn’t pay for it.”
Here’s the thing: we were in a hurry because we were already running late for an appointment. It would have been easy to just brush it off, or think, “I’ll come back and pay for it later.” But instead, we turned around, waited in a long line and paid for that greeting card. First, because I don’t steal. And second, because I needed to teach my son an important lesson about character—I knew that my actions would speak far louder than any lectures about honesty and “doing the right thing.”
Frank Sonnenberg has written a wonderful book called Follow Your Conscience in which he examines those little “life moments” when we might be tempted to look the other way , or take the easy way out. People who don’t actively nurture their character and listen to their conscience believe that “moral character is a sideshow, not the main act.” And that’s a shame, writes Sonnenberg, because “we lose something very important when character is treated as an afterthought.”
Through a series of nearly 50 essays, Sonnenberg explores wide-ranging topics for work and life, such as forgiveness, personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, honor and being a role model. Each essay is brief and to-the-point—averaging about three pages. What’s great about the book’s design is that you can read it in any order you wish. I perused the table of contents and read the essays whose titles most appealed to me.
Follow Your Conscience also offers a section called “Resources” and it’s on these pages that I found the most wonderful nuggets of wisdom. Frank is a prodigious list maker. He and I first met via Twitter when he offered his followers a free download called 24 Ways to Simplify Your Life. I still have the list displayed in my office. My favorite resource in this book is the list titled, “How to Lose Trust and Credibility”, which features 50 statements that might make you take pause and think, “Oh wow, I just did one of those things yesterday.” I’m thinking of giving that list to my son, who is now 14. Not because I think that he’s lousy at credibility, but because, as his parent, I’m still helping him shape his character and conscience. Thanks, Frank, for providing a lovely resource to do just that.
This book is on the one hand, an “easy read” because it’s well-organized and clearly written. On the other hand, if you take the content to heart, it may not be quite so “easy” because it requires you to take a hard look at your choices and possibly make a few adjustments in your life. I for one, am glad I picked it up, even if it did make me squirm while reading a few sections.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for the purposes interviewing the author. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Please know that I only share information that I believe will be useful to my readers. For more information, see The People Equation disclosure statement.
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