This is currently the most emailed article on the NYT site. It is written by Adam Grant, a übernerdy superstar in business psychology about whom I have written earlier. The piece offers a meticulous review of all the research. So, how do you do it? Apparently, by the relentless deployment of evidence-based “interventions” – for example, praise rather than reward (but make sure you praise effort rather than ability), model generous behavior, etc. As Grant judiciously concludes, “people often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character.” How about theories suggesting that moral development depends crucially on attachment, or the forging of strong emotional bonds between parents (or “caregivers”) and children, rather than on shrewd and systemic, quasi-behaviorist manipulation?
Let me guess – perhaps this is not really a viable option for Grant and some of the researchers he quotes (some of whom, I assume, have used their own offspring as test subjects – formally or informally)? I am less sure about the thousands of readers who found in Grant’s summary of the research some deep wisdom worth sharing. I have a more profound concern, though. Why bother? Come to think of it, how would a deeply compassionate and moral child survive once he or she grows up, really?