In Search of Characters with Character
By Ed Delph
October 31, 2022
Here's a story I think you will enjoy. The children lined up in a Catholic elementary school cafeteria for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note and posted on the apple tray: "Take only ONE. God is watching." Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table, was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A girl had written a note, "Take all the cookies you want. God is watching the apples." That girl is probably one of those characters that could use a bit of character.
Have you noticed all the chatter about character and ethics lately? I see it everywhere. Good character traits are listed in school cafeteria walls, business walls, and government offices. The list goes on and on. Character and the necessity of ethics are trying to return. But it seems like the more we push 'good' character in our world, the more we get bad characters in our world. Our current lack of character is because character comes from within us, not outside of us. You can't change your character by getting a facelift. Likewise, a person’s character is like a fence – it can’t be strengthened by whitewash.
Character and ethics determine long-term success. Our talents, drive, gifts, or abilities might get us to the top, but character keeps us on top. Realizing our full potential becomes impossible without good character. Let’s say it this way. Massive character flaws and deficiencies within people and leaders produce limited and guarded relationships by those affected by character flaws and weaknesses. People and institutions withdraw. Why? There's no trust. Trust is the currency of meaningful and fulfilling relationships.
Let me give you an example. Years ago, I was contacted by a high official of the United Nations. He told me he was the head of a United Nations program whose goal was to find people of "ethics" who could teach character in cities throughout Russia. He said many western businesses were trying to invest and conduct business in Russia, but because of a lack of basic business ethics, most were leaving Russia. The United Nations' solution was to find leaders with a lifestyle of sound ethics and introduce the Russian business community to these values through seminars all over Russia.
We will underachieve with employees, politicians, teachers, academics, business leaders, and the like who are characters without sound character. That kind of personality-driven, media-supported leadership will have a limited shelf life. It’s not sustainable. Leaders and people with substantial character issues may succeed in the short run, but it will get them in the long run. So many times, the way to find out about one person is to ask him about another. Ouch!
Some people have 'compartmentalized' character. They may be very trustworthy in some areas of their life but untrustworthy in other parts of their life. For example, a person can be very responsible by making a good living yet inconsistent in investing time with their family or being faithful to their spouse. A person might have a magnetic personality, but much of what they say is untrue.
It's easy to be swayed or impressed with people like these because we focus on their positive attributes but look away from the negative, hurtful ones. Eventually, their credibility issues expose the person for who they are. Character diminishes when a high ideal (like telling the truth) is sacrificed on the altar of conformity and popularity.
Ethics and good character are essentials for any nation, business, or person that wants life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Theodore Roosevelt wisely said: "To educate a man in the mind and not in morals (values) is to educate a menace to society." Lindsay White of Costa's Fresh Produce says, "We used to hire people for their skills, but we found we were firing them for character issues. So now we hire those with good character (values) and train for skills."
Let me ask you a question. If you are an employer, which of these employees would you rather have? An employee who is alert or careless; compassionate or indifferent; diligent or slothful; orderly or confused; thorough or incomplete? The answer should be evident if you are trying to grow a good organization.
Here are some questions to consider. If you are an employee, which type of employer would you rather have? An employer who is generous or stingy, attentive or distracted; wise or foolish; truthful or untruthful? Enough said.
Our national and personal character can be our best friend or worst enemy. My advice is to make good ethics your best friend. Good character is not old-fashioned. It's wise. Too many of us have given up hope on finding people with good character these days. Yet, good character is still here, and history shows that people and nations who forget the necessity of sound ethics and character are soon forgotten.
Don't get me wrong. No one is perfect. We all have areas where we could grow in character. Let me say it this way, it's OK to be a character, but you better have good character too.
Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com