The sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of blessed memory (1880–1950), once addressed a certain person in a letter using the title “a G‑d-fearing man” (ish yerei Elokim). The rebbe’s secretary remarked that this person’s reputation did not justify such a distinguished title.

The rebbe used the example of a pathology lab to explain his point. When a lab technician examines a blood sample, he or she looks under a microscope for any trace of the suspected cells or element. The discovery of even one-thousandth of one percent of it is regarded as very significant, as it implies a potential for this “tiny trace” to grow and develop into a most tangible factor in the person’s life.

So too, said the rebbe, I look at the person’s soul under a spiritual microscope. I never fail to find there a trace of the fear of G‑d. To me, this “tiny trace” is very significant. In fact, by conferring upon the person the title “G‑d-fearing person” now, we accentuate that quality in him or her, and encourage it to grow and develop and become a tangible reality in that person’s life.

In a seminar I once attended, the speaker asked the audience: “What makes a successful person?” The responses were: “A person who is honest,” “enthusiastic,” “kind,” “has integrity,” “cares about others,” and so on. Most of the items mentioned as a recipe for success had to do more with attitude than with skill. Regarding a particular skill, a person might claim, “I just don’t have it in me”; but when it comes to positive attitudes, these are things that each one of us possesses—at the very least, in the form of a “tiny trace.” We need only to discover them and allow them to develop.

We believe that every single person has a trace of honesty, good will, gentleness, politeness, and so on. It is our job as parents, spouses, friends and fellow human beings to find that trace—even if we need to take out our inner microscopes—and encourage it.

The author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar suggests that we stand in front of a mirror each morning and say: “I am an honest person. I am a person who cares about others.” We should go on and list all the character traits which we would like to reveal in ourselves. We should encourage our children to do the same.

The next step is to act in the way that a person who possesses those traits would act. Just like we cannot learn to fly an airplane or play a violin just by reading up on it or listening to lectures about it, so too the development of character requires practice. I know of parents who take their children to visit people in a hospital or an old-age home. They encourage their child to use some of her pocket money towards helping others. Practicing acts of charity and kindness on an ongoing basis makes a kind person.

In a nutshell, the steps are: believe that we have the attitudes, and practice them until they become second nature.

Try it—it works!