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The Million-Dollar Character Trait


Everyone has them. Well, let’s be clear – everyone that is cool has them. And, if you are worthy enough, you will have them too. When you put them on, they are magical. They take you from the Hood to the Land of Oz where all things are possible, unless of course you have to have a relationship with real life, those hard realities where the magic on the outside rubs off in due time and the stuff on the inside, that stuff we hoped to forget about when we put the magic on, creeps into everything we do and starts creating little earthquakes and tidal waves in our life. Forget about respect and trustworthiness, it’s all about who’s got the money on the feet. Worth in dollars is what we are selling as our ticket to succeed in this world to some of our young people.

For many urban youth, the ticket to success isn’t a good school or caring teachers, it’s a pair of Michael Jordan shoes. The shoes, well, they are really important. Golden actually. And, perhaps in upper class neighborhoods it isn’t so much about the shoes as it is a different kind of material item or which family has more connections. The trend here that is happening with our youth is that we are attaching our worth to money and material items, and this trend is particularly prevalent in poor urban communities. So that is to say, if your shoes come from Payless instead of Foot Locker, you have no worth, you are socially worthless and definitely not as cool.

Forget respect and trustworthiness, because those character traits come from hard work, consistent practice, and empowering environments. The million- dollar character trait is as easy to get as spending our money not on the basics, but the magic shoe, and as Dorothy in Oz said, we just have to tap our magic shoes and go anywhere, anytime. It has the appearance of a direct route to safety, stability and happiness.

Yet, the real million-dollar character trait is cultivated in the heart and mind. Putting the magic shoes on not only propagates a false sense of success and security, it teaches us that if we can control the outside of who we are, we can certainly control the inside of who we are. This formula is particularly tantalizing for our youth and many urban at-risk youth who are struggling with weak and insecure environments in which they are raised. This formula is a powerfully dangerous lesson to unpack in life.

The real million-dollar character trait is trustworthiness. That’s right. Teaching our kids how to show up no matter what. When we teach our kids how to show up 100%, the other character traits start connecting almost effortlessly.

How do we replace cool Michael Jordon shoes with the glamorous on the inside, but perhaps not so alluring on the outside trustworthiness? We have to keep creating opportunities to experience safety and pleasure for our kids and families because it feels good to feel safe and feel good. That’s basically what the Michael Jordon shoe is doing for many of our urban youth and families. It’s providing sense of safety and pleasure, and worth to experience that safety and pleasure, though not sustainable and not long-term.

We can’t just talk trustworthiness either. No one likes to be just talked to. What makes trustworthiness glamorous is the way it makes us feel when we are being trustworthy and the way it feels when others are being trustworthy. There are a lot of messages out there telling us to get stuff on the outside to make us feel good on the inside and as it turns out, it doesn’t feel good for very long when we are lacking a trustworthy person in our lives and when we lack that trait as well, and replace it with something material.

We can keep looking for the next Michael Jordon shoe for safety and pleasure, but unless we start teaching our kids the stuff on the outside doesn’t determine our worth or our family’s worth and that what does is the million-dollar character trait, life will keep giving us joy-less moments. Sure, it’s fun sometimes to have stuff from the outside, but it’s not the real deal.

Many of our urban youth are learning to build their social and emotional skills on the kinds of shoes they wear and status is graded on how well the shoe is propagated in the culture, and with status comes power, and with power comes success. Yet, this is the model that will eventually implode.

We must change the model to uphold trustworthiness as the Million-Dollar Character Trait. We are not going to obliterate all the Michael Jordon shoes, and besides who wants to because they are pretty stylin’, but what we can do is shift our emphasis on the value those things bring in our lives.

Creating opportunities for our kids, especially our urban youth who lack cohesive family structures and support, to feel the good stuff on the inside multiple times (read consistently here), puts them on the life long journey to sustainable success, that benefits not just the part, but the whole.

Trustworthiness isn’t just the Million-Dollar Character Trait, it’s priceless. And, that’s something I’ll put on my feet and heart over and over again. With the right encouragement, commitment, and modeling, so will our kids.

Om Shanti Om ~ Athea


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