The Good Little Kittens

There's a book on the best-seller list that isn't a steamy romance or a kiss-and-tell government memoir. It isn't even a new diet book. It's a whopping 800-page collection of inspiring stories, fables, and poems designed to illustrate good character and virtue. The book is titled The Book of Virtues by William Bennett. And the fact that it actually topped the bestseller lists may tell us something about the longing for goodness that drives the human heart even in our jaded times. In these pages readers will rediscover the old poems and tales we all heard and loved as children, from Aesop's Fables to Jack and the Bean Stalk to Robin Hood to Shakespeare--all grouped according to the values they teach. See if you can identify the following simple child's poem, which teaches personal responsibility. The episode begins when three small kittens, due to some unspecified carelessness, have lost their mittens. We learn that there was a direct negative outcome to the kittens' irresponsibility: Their mother announced that they would not be allowed to eat any pie. The blame for the lost mittens was placed firmly on the kittens themselves. They were not allowed to shift the blame onto their parents or society or anyone else. The rule was firm: no mittens, no pie. With a clear knowledge of the consequences of their behavior, the kittens were quick to remedy the situation. The next time we meet them, three small pairs of mittens are hanging on the rack where they belong. And three small kittens are enjoying the rewards of their efforts: a rich, warm piece of pie. It's a simple story, aimed at very young children--yet it illustrates a profound truth. Stories like these do what didactic lecturing and scolding can never do: They make us want to be good. They don't just give us ideas to believe in, they show us characters to emulate. They reach into our imagination so that we vicariously experience the shame of wrongdoing--and then the thrill of picking ourselves back up and setting things right again. In his book Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong, William Kirkpatrick recommends stories as the best way to teach character. Stories impart a sense that life has meaning, that it makes sense. As Kirkpatrick writes, "the surest foundation for morality . . . is the belief that you have a role to play in life"--that your life has a purpose, like story with a well-constructed plot. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught so many spiritual lessons in the form of parables. The story of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son illustrate abstract truths through the actions of flesh-and-blood characters. So why not join the crowds who are gathering at the bookstores to buy The Book of Virtues by William Bennett. The book is not explicitly Christian, but it can help you teach your child good character. Even tiny children to learn that you can't shift blame for misbehavior onto someone else. That if you want to get some pie, you'd better hang on to your mittens.


Chuck Colson


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