On Promoting Purpose

At some point in my life I fell in love with words. I am not sure why this happened, because I distinctly remember being told in high school that my vocabulary was not very large. By college it had not improved much, and by the time I took the Graduate Record Exam to get into grad school I knew I had to make an effort to improve my vocabulary. Maybe it was listening to those GRE vocabulary tapes that first piqued my interest, or maybe it was the delightful discovery of the precision of words- finding the perfect word for describing something. In some cases it was because I just liked the sound of the word. I still don’t know for sure, but what I do know is that I began to pay attention to the words people use, and ponder the precise meaning and purpose for using them.

So it was as I wrapped up my reading of William Damon’s The Path to Purpose: How Young People find their Calling in Life this week. Toward the end of the book Dr. Damon presents a chapter, written largely to parents, but very apropos to our work as youth development educators, on facilitating the development of purpose in youth. Dr. Damon calls his list of suggestions “precepts.” That word stuck out to me, making what followed more than just a list of suggestions. Something more powerful; more important.

Precept – “A general rule intending to regulate behavior or thought.”

Seen through this definition, the precepts Dr. Damon proposes for promoting the development of purpose direct us to the approaches we need to take, and behaviors we need to enact, if we are to facilitate the development of purpose in youth. The actions on the list need to become more than mere ideas, they need to become a natural way of thinking and acting when we work with youth. To me, the use of the word precept highlights the importance of these actions, and emphasizes the care we need to take to bring the actions alive in our own youth development practice.

These precepts are:

  • Listen carefully for the spark, and then fan the flame
  • Take advantage of regular opportunities to open a dialogue
  • Be open-minded and supportive of the sparks of interest expressed
  • Convey your own sense of purpose and the meaning you derive from your work
  • Impart wisdom about the practicalities of life
  • Introduce youth to potential mentors
  • Encourage an entrepreneurial attitude
  • Nurture a positive outlook
  • Instill in youth a feeling of agency that is linked to responsibility

How can these precepts be incorporated into your own approach to youth development. Do you use them in your current work? Are there new ideas that you might begin to use with greater intention? How can you help volunteers and youth leaders learn these precepts and begin to put them into practice?

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold


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