Character Washout

Blue Horizontal Line


When I was a boy, there was a game the girls particularly
liked to play, it was called “Character Washout.” The members
of the group threw dice and the highest throw won the
questionable honour of being singled out for say, ten minutes,
while the rest of the group told him or her what was wrong
with his or her character.

I realize now it was a probably a primitive ancestor
of today's “group therapy.” I never saw that it did
much good, but as I look back I realize some of the remarks
made enemies that blasted a life time.

I think it helped me though, because it caused me to
develop a hippopotamus hide about criticism that has
served me well. Even today if anybody called me a
“low down skunk,” I’d respond, “Great. Thank you for
your attention. Who’s next?”

If the criticism was supposed to help my character,
it didn’t. Instead it helped me to become impervious to
criticism. I have found this a great help in pursuing
life’s goals.

A lot of the kids really enjoyed this game though.
It got them excited, emotional and they “got it
off their chest.”

Much film entertainment on TV. follows this same
program. Confrontation creates emotionalism for its
own sake. So there are plenty of confrontational scenes
on television. But you know people think television
is real life and things are supposed to run that way.
You are supposed to have a nice house, a nice car and
to create confrontations to fill up your emotional life.
What people need to be told is confrontation and
character wash out are false emotional highs (emotion
for the sake of emotional highs, i.e. ridiculous
emotionalism. A surprising number of people
like all that same emotionalism in religion.)

My father who was two inches from brilliant, made
his family play, “Character Affirmation,” which was
naming good things about people and each other.
I found this game worked out better in real life, though
I can still play a pretty fair game of character wash
out if I have to.

Character affirming is the way to go since it raises the other
persons self esteem. It reinforces positive patterns. Life
has taught me Dad was dead right. Character Affirmation is not
as dramatic as Character Washout, but it works with people far
better and more positively.

You don’t see Character Affirmed much on TV. but you do get
confrontation or “Character Washout.” That is one reason the
television is not illustrative of real life. How many viewers
and particularly young viewers understand this?

Dad, a preacher, had invented another game to inculcate
the positive. When we were driving along in the car and a cow
was seen, which was often then, the next in line had to
say something good about a person the last one to answer chose.
This led to some really comic situations.

We found we could be literally damning with faint praise,
at which times all of us roared with laughter. Once to confound
my brother I named a gross deacon we both disliked.
My brother desperate to find something nice to say about
the most contrary old deacon imaginable in a congregation, said,
“Well, he keeps his nose hairs clipped,” at which time Dad
had to pull the car off the road while he and all of us laughed
and laughed. My brother turned red, so Dad said, “That’s all
right, son, you’re trying. I know the difficulty of finding a
good thing about him. Boy, do I!” Then Dad looked at me and
warned, “The Devil is off limits. Nobody need say a good word
for the Devil.” Dad could always read my mind.

My brother became an attorney. Dad said he learned to be a
defense lawyer on the people I threw at him in the
“say-something-good-when-you-see-a-cow-game.” Then I said,
“Could be, but it worked. Look he’s a lawyer!”

I suggest that as the “Character Washout” approach to situations
does no practical good, why on earth use it? It may help you
feel better temporarily, but it’s like a volcano erupting.
There’s all that hot lava to deal with, while ruins and scars
from it last for years. It is an impractical way to go while
a self-indulgent way to do. It’s like throwing jugs of milk
on the floor in tantrums. It wastes milk and makes a mess
to clean up later.

Self control and character affirmation are much better.
It takes effort, humour and transcendence to use them, but
once done, you have a sound conscience as it has been done
the right way, even if all there is to appreciate is well clipped
nose hair. You can laugh later at home in private.

My life has not been so sad that I look back at my
memories of childhood as my happiest times, but I
look back upon them as good times. Those days left an account
of good memories to be drawn upon. My parents were not always
right, thank Heaven, but Christians livable in their
living, restrained but affectionate, and not bent out of shape
by unbalanced, injudiciously applied religious demands. I recall
them always as good people trying to do right by their children.

I remember some of their original and amusing efforts to instill
in their boys character productive traits, spiritual
awareness, and just plain common sense, and I smile. Invariably,

I find myself smiling. I look back not in anger but with thanks.

As Christians and parents, have you considered the kind of
unfading memories you are giving your children and grandchildren
to carry from today? What are you giving your children as
memories for tomorrow and their days after tomorrow? Have you
considered this because the way you rear your children
is usually the way they will rear their children. We
tend to do, not as we dream of, but as we have been
done by. Your decisions can affect generations beyond
you. Take time to think this out. The memories I advise you
on will not just be put away in your children's minds,
but will live locked in their souls.


Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.