The system is rigged. All the more reason not to help it. Denzel Washington
As American politician and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan discussed in his 1965 report - The Negro Family – The Case for National Action—specifically in the second section, called The Negro American Family—the conduct of adults in society is learned when they are children. Both good and bad behavior are significantly influenced by one’s environment.
Nelson Mandela believed that nurture rather than nature is the main builder of one’s personality and character. If that is the case, then our community can foster an environment to cultivate a particular type of character.
I’ve observed that every organization or group that wants to have a sustainable existence—whether it’s a Fortune 500 company or a street fraternity—must have a code of conduct to keep from disrupting the main agenda. This principle works for individuals as well.
When you monitor the way you conduct yourself publicly and privately, you have an opportunity to build and improve your character, your confidence, and subsequently, your destiny.
You can tell where someone is headed in their life by what they do on a consistent basis. Achieving our goals and building the lives we want to live will largely be determined by the principles, boundaries, and policies that we incorporate into our lives. On the flip side, we can prevent major problems and avoid pitfalls by putting certain controls in place.
I believe that if Dr. King was alive today, not only would he be addressing issues of injustice, he’d be talking about the black family and teaching black people about the importance of developing themselves to be quality people. He addressed this topic his speech “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?”
Many times, mentors lecture their mentees on what they should have known about how to be a wise person—after the fact. Rarely do we see the advice or standards given before the fact. But codes of conduct exist for a reason.
I heard a story about a group of young black women who attended a conference where a prominent figure was giving a keynote lecture. At the end of the conference, the young ladies approached the prominent figure and asked for advice. The advice given was to keep from getting pregnant and to educate themselves. They were offended. The advice was construed as condescending.
I often speak with black elders who have a frank and sometimes harsh or even bitter demeanor. I’ve always wondered why. After speaking with a number of black elders, I realized why.
Many of them, unfortunately, have witnessed tens or hundreds of young men and women sabotage their opportunities by making poor life choices. Others are carrying broken dreams because they were not given the opportunity to manifest, as result of oppression that existed in their time.
These elders don’t have time to mince words with young people. Even though their tone may be off, the heart of the message comes from a redemptive place. It’s important for young people to recognize that a harsh message may not have anything to do with them, and that if they can find the redemptive elements in the advice, they should take it.
I know several women who were teenage mothers. Their experience occurred at a time when the social shame was strong and relentless. Friends and family derided and judged them. They told them they would not amount to anything, that their lives would be ruined.
Through grace and their own resilience, these women didn’t listen to the negative messages. They went on to become successful business owners, authors, executives of major companies, PhDs, etc. Some of them do express regret over the timing of their decision and the person they chose as partners.
One conversation stands out to me. A woman told me that particular things should have been done - in order. In order to keep things from going wrong, you want to do things - in order. It’s important for young people to understand how quickly life can spin out of control when you make the wrong choices.
Confidence comes from living your life in such a way that you can reliably predict where you will be in the future. It’s been said that you can choose the future by how you act in the present. A young person can change his or her life before it falls apart. For that you need, a code of conduct.
The definition of a code of conduct is a set of moral principles, boundaries, and expectations that are incorporated into your life, which keep you from sabotaging, interrupting, or detouring a life of purpose.
As one black educator said, black people have been turned upside down and inside out. Black people have to turn themselves right side up. In a society that has historically oppressed and prohibited black people from experiencing the quality of life that should be every person’s God-given right, we need a culturally uplifting code of conduct to keep us from undermining and sabotaging our success.
Another black educator said, (the world) will provide you with all the resources to destroy yourself. We need moral restraints to keep us from accepting everything that is offered. It's not wrong to be tempted. It's foolish to fall into temptation, when you can put something in place to protect you from you.
What if, as a mentor, you never had a code of conduct to guide your behavior and choices? Forgive yourself. My faith tradition teaches me that God can “restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” (Joel 2:25, NKJV.) The second half of your life can be better than the first half, especially if you have learned the lessons of the first half.
One of the greatest ways to add value to someone’s life is to provide them with a structure to keep them on a productive path. We want the next generation to preserve what they have, rather than restore it at a later date, because the pain of regret is heavier than the pain of proactivity.
A code of conduct provides guidance in preventing some of the common mistakes, instead of focusing on a cure. If you don’t teach, they’ll never learn—or worse, they’ll learn the wrong things.
You want to teach young people how to solve problems before catastrophes arrive. You don’t want them to sink their ship before it leaves the harbor. It’s better to work to keep negative things from happening instead of working to fix the problems that arise.
Your confidence will not be based on who you know in this world, but on what you do day-to-day and moment-to-moment. Low self-esteem comes from not having been productive. We can feel incomplete if we’re aimless and misuse our time and energy.
I want to be careful here, because I don’t mean to say that you have no value if you are not productive. I mean to say that if you can be productive and are not, you’ll feel a nagging sense inside that says, “I know I can do more and do better.” Your intrinsic worth and value does not have to be earned, but it can and should be expressed through your actions and endeavors.
As black people, we have been conditioned to see life a certain way and go in a direction not chosen by us. I consider the formation of a code of conduct to be a crucial element of freedom, because it can help you determine the direction your life will go in.
Why not take control and point your life in the direction you choose? As the quote says, you can’t buy a slave. You have to make a slave. A free man does what he chooses and goes in the direction that he points.
Bridge the Gaps Code of Conduct
Here’s my code of conduct based on the guide
Bridge the Gaps – Lessons on Self-Awareness, Self-Development, and Self-Care.
Culture is something that changes over time. As the culture redefines itself, beliefs, customs, traditions, and ideas change. Yet certain principles need to be honored in order for life to move forward in a positive way. Telling people what they should do right is just as important as telling them what they did wrong.
Human nature tends to lure us down the easiest and most comfortable path, even if it’s harmful. In order to have an orderly relationship and community, we must put this human tendency in check. In a world that is rapidly changing and full of temptation to compromise one’s calling, young people need mentors who know what really matters.
Here’s a code of conduct based on proactivity, prevention, and instruction.
1. Choose your environment and friends wisely.
a. “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33, NLT)
b. “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (Proverbs 12:26, KJV)
c. Read Chapters 22 and 33 of Bridge the Gaps
2. A person’s greatness is determined by what it takes to discourage him/her.
a. “Dear brothers and sisters, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.” (James 1:2-4, TLB)
b. Read Chapters 26, 27, 28, and 30 of Bridge the Gaps
3. Don’t venture past your sphere of knowledge until your sphere of knowledge exceeds your venture.
a. “Desire without knowledge is not good — how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” (Proverbs 19:2, NIV)
b. Read Chapters 7, 9, and 16 of Bridge the Gaps
4. Work to achieve mastery of yourself and your craft.
a. “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” (Proverbs 22:29, NIV)
b. Read Chapters 4, 6, and 24 of Bridge the Gaps
5. Cultivate a vision and work hard to bring it into fruition.
a. “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23, NIV)
b. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)
c. Read Chapters 8 and 20 of Bridge the Gaps
6. Talk less. Make fewer announcements and more adjustments.
a. “Like billowing clouds that bring no rain is the person who talks big but never produces.” (Proverbs 25:14, MSG)
b. Read Chapter 15 of Bridge the Gaps
7. Eliminate distractions and identify your focus.
a. “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:4, NIV)
b. Read Chapters 1, 12, 17, and 29 of Bridge the Gaps
8. You’re not required to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.
a. “Do not despise these small beginnings.” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT)
b. Read Chapters 11 of Bridge the Gaps
9. Manage your priorities wisely.
a. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NIV)
b. Read Chapters 18, 19, 23, and 43 of Bridge the Gaps
10. Learn how to love yourself and others.
a. “Let your love abound in knowledge and depth of insight.” (Philippians 1:9, NIV)
b. Read Chapters 31 to 42 of Bridge the Gaps
The Scripture says that “A principled life can stand up to the worst.” (Proverbs 11:4, MSG). When I lead life-coaching courses in prison, I have the sad realization that so many men will never reach and share their true level of greatness because they’re spending the best years of their lives behind the wall.
I’m convinced that, for many of the brothers I meet, their lives were derailed because they had no leadership in their lives to provide them with the discipline and accountability we all need to live our best lives. As the Scripture says, “A refusal to correct is a refusal to love.” (Proverbs 13:24, MSG).
One of the main, painstaking lessons that I’ve learned is that the greatest threat to freedom is your freedom. As a leader, you want to use your freedom to cause the right and best things happen and to keep the wrong things from happening.
Many of the men I meet were never taught to have consequential thinking. They didn’t consider the penalties of their actions, which is part of adolescent thinking.
Part of being confident comes from knowing that you have put the controls in place in your life to keep negative things from happening. These controls serve as a kind of referee. With your code of conduct, you’re mapping your behavior to what you want your life to look like for the next twenty years.
What might be some of the negative things you want to keep from happening? Let me give you a list. These are the consequences of having no code of conduct.
Poor sexual/relational practices can lead to: STDs, unwanted pregnancies, child support battles, lifelong relational drama
Poor eating/sleep/exercise habits lead to: preventable diseases, low energy, poor mental/emotional/physical health
Poor self-control/due diligence of your financial life leads to: unmanageable debts, relational conflict due to unpaid personal loans, foreclosures, property repossessions
Poor relationship choices lead to: long-term relational turmoil, community breakdown, and misguided choices, including breaking the law
Poor emotional habits lead to: Using addictions to cope with your emotional pain, impulsive actions
Poor time management: Missed deadlines and opportunities leading to life-altering circumstances
There can be no change without truth. The truth listed here is in no way meant to shame you. It’s hard to face certain realities, but if we are going to build a great life, then that’s exactly what we need to face.
When you don’t have a good code of conduct that you live by consistently, the older you get, the worse your life will be. When you have a code of conduct that aligns you with who you want to be in the future, it helps you project a strength of character that inspires trust in others.
At this point in my life, I’ve seen enough to say that putting together a code of conduct, sooner rather than later, is the smartest thing to do. No one talks about the foundation of a house until the house is falling apart—yet the foundation is the hardest and most important part of building a house. Your code of conduct is the foundation to your life.
Sample Code of Conduct
Here's a sample code of conduct that one person gave me:
1. I will read two books a month based on my personal and professional developmental needs.
2. I will arrive everywhere I am scheduled to go on time and adequately prepared for my responsibilities.
3. I will offer my seat to women if limited seating is available.
4. I will dress in an honorable and non-sexually explicit manner.
5. I will budget my money properly every week in order to live below my means.
6. I will not loan money to others unless I am prepared to not have it paid back.
7. I will foster healthy relationships.
8. I will preserve the preciousness of sexual intimacy within the context of marriage.
9. Serious interpersonal conflict, especially with other black people, needs to be settled privately, personally, and peacefully.
10. I will commit to eating healthy food and working out at least four times a week.
11. I will refuse to gossip, slander, or speak of someone in a negative way.
12. I will keep my commitments. Otherwise, I will refrain from committing in a way that exceeds my limits.
Personal Code of Conduct
Take some time to come up with your own code of conduct based on who you want to be and the kind of person you want your mentee to become.
For additional exercises and tools, see Chapter 25 – Habits and Systems in Bridge the Gaps: Lessons on Self-Awareness, Self-Development and Self-Care. Visit www.amazon.com or www.thebridg330.com to pick up a copy.