Be a Person of Strong Character

September 16, 2018

Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

Mark Twain 


A small boy sat on a fence eyeing the luscious looking apples hanging from the branches of a nearby tree. Suddenly, a farmer appeared.

“Sonny,” he demanded sternly, “are you trying to steal those apples?”

“No sir,” answered the boy, “I’m trying not to.”


H.L. Mencken writes: “Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone may be looking.” Steven Wright adds: “A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.”


“His conscience was the strongest element of his nature. His affections were tender and warm. His whole nature was simple and sincere-he was pure, and then was himself.” This quote was written about the character of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a role model for character, integrity, and honesty, traits that never left him.


Frank Outlaw scribes:

Watch your thoughts, they become words.

Watch your words, they become actions.

Watch your actions, they become habits.

Watch you habits, they become character.

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.


Marshall Field once wrote a set of reminders that can be helpful in establishing a sound set of values. Some key principles from that set are: the value of time, the success of perseverance, the pleasure of working, the dignity of simplicity, the worth of character, the power of kindness, the influence of example, the obligation of duty and the value of patience. A number of these values will be covered here and in future blogs.


A man took his two children to the county fair. His daughter was 10 years old and his son was eight. The admission price was $10.00 for adults and children over six. When he paid the admission, he paid for 3 adults. The ticket seller asked, “How old is the little boy?” The father replied that he was 8 years old. The ticket seller stated, “You know, you could have saved money if you said he was six, and I wouldn’t have known the difference. He looks very young for his age.”


The father replied. “Yes, I suppose I could have done that, but,” turning and looking at his children, he continued, “They would have known.” What a wonderful illustration of the influence by example.


Let’s take a look at some people displaying poor value choices and character traits:


A young boy came home and told his dad that the other kids kept stealing his pencils at school. The father became angry and stomped off to school to complain. “It’s the principle of the thing that bothers me the most,” he bellowed to his son’s teacher. “It’s not a matter of the pencils; I get plenty of those at work.”


“My boy,” asked the boss, “Do you believe in life after death?”

“Yes, sir,” replied the boy.

“Then that makes everything fine,” the employer continued. “About an hour after you left to attend your grandfather’s funeral, he came in to see you."


A boy and girl were playing together. The boy had a collection of marbles. The girl had some sweets with her. The boy told the girl that he would give her all his marbles in exchange for her sweets. The girl agreed. The boy kept the most beautiful marble and gave the rest to the girl. The girl gave him all her sweets as she had promised. That night, the girl slept peacefully. But the boy couldn’t sleep as he kept wondering if the girl had hidden some sweets from him the way he had hidden his best marble.


Note to my childhood self: apparently it is not true that all liar’s pants catch on fire.


And then there was the lady who mailed a check to the Canadian Revenue Agency for $300.00. Enclosed with the check was this note: “I cheated on my income tax last year and have not been able to sleep since. This check covers half of what I owe. If I continue to have trouble sleeping, I will send you the other half.”


What has happened that might help us to explain the following story. Two older ladies were walking around in a somewhat overcrowded English country courtyard and came upon a tombstone. The inscription said, “Here lies John Smith, a politician and an honest man.” “Good heaven’s!” said one lady to the other. “Isn’t it awful that they have to put two people in the same grave.”


Some people only exist as examples of
what to avoid.


It is sad that a trend in recent surveys has surfaced that a majority of voters do not believe or expect that politicians will keep their campaign promises. An ancient proverb states, “I worry there is something broken in our generation. There are so many sad eyes on seemingly happy faces.”


I’ve heard the following anecdote a number of times: “If you can play golf and bridge as though they were games, you’re just about as well adjusted as you are ever going to be.” 


“Mary, why don’t you play golf with Jane anymore?” asked a friend.

 “Would you play golf with someone who kicked the ball with their foot when you weren’t watching.”

 “I guess not,” admitted the friend.

“Would you want to play with someone who lied about their score?” Mary continued.

 “No, I probably wouldn’t,” the friend agreed.

 “Neither did Jane,” replied Mary.


There just has to be more to it than that. Strong character traits are timeless and have long stood the test of time.


One of my favorite television series is NCIS.  I was viewing an episode the other night, when a thought came to me. What if I was to put out a BOLO (be on the lookout) for people of strong character. I would hope you have had in your life many role models who you can look to for answers here: parents, spouses, friends, clergy, teachers, who are strong character people.


What character traits would these people have? How would they act in specific situations we all encounter in life on a daily basis? No one is perfect and free from flaws, but there must be specific traits of personality and character we could be searching for. Character traits are words used to describe how people act during certain situations or what kind of people they are. These traits are sometimes described as good or bad and everyone has them. They can be easily observed through actions or responses to a situation or how a person acts around you or others. Remember, people of strong character are also human and are subject to the same life experiences, challenges and temptations as all of us.


A preacher put this question to a class of children: “If all the good people in the world were red and all the bad people were green, what color would you be?”

Little Linda thought mightily for a moment. Then her face brightened and she replied, “Reverend, I’d be streaky." How many of us could identify with being streaky?


The Reverend Billy Graham is often cited as a man of impeccable character. He once told of a time early in his career when he arrived in a small town to deliver a sermon. Wanting to mail a letter, he asked a young boy where the post office was. When the boy told him, Dr. Graham thanked him and said,” If you’ll come to the Baptist Church this evening, you can hear me telling everyone how to get to heaven.”


“I don’t think I’ll be there,” said the boy. “You don’t even know your way to the post office.”


Graham wrote, “Integrity is the glue that holds our way of life together. We must constantly strive to keep our integrity intact."


People of strong character live a life of integrity: Integrity is having strong moral principles and core values and then conducting your life with those as your guide. Having the courage to do what is right, even when it’s difficult. Integrity is defined as an unimpaired commitment to personal, moral, and absolute standards. To live a life of integrity signifies that you say what you mean and mean what you say at all times, without compromise.


People of strong character don’t judge
people before really knowing them or the
facts about a situation.


People of strong character always tells the truth. John Maxwell writes: “Ethical principles are not flexible. A little white lie is still a lie. Theft is theft, whether it’s $1, $1000.00 or $1 million. Integrity commits itself to character over personal gain, to people over things, to principle over convenience, to the long view over the immediate. Anytime you break a moral principle, you create a small crack in the foundation of your integrity. And when times get tough, it becomes harder to act with integrity, not easier.”


Seen on a t-shirt: I got trust issues because people got lying issues.


A minister wound up services one Sunday morning by saying, “Next Sunday, I’m going to preach on the subject of liars. And in this connection, as a preparation for my discourse, I should like you all to read the 17th chapter of Mark."


On the following Sunday, the preacher rose to begin and said, “Now then, all of you who have done as I requested and read the 17th chapter of Mark, please raise your hands.” Nearly every hand in the congregation went up. “Then,” said the preacher, “You are the very people I want to speak to. There is no 17th chapter of Mark!”


It costs $0.00 to be a decent human being. The truth doesn’t cost anything but a lie could cost you everything. The most expensive thing in the world is trust. It can take years to earn and just a matter of seconds to lose. Breaking someone’s trust is like crumpling up a perfect piece of paper. You can smooth it over but it’s never going to be the same again. It is very hard to recover trust after it is lost. Sorry works when a mistake is made, but not so when trust is broken. If you tell the truth it becomes a part of your past. If you tell a lie it becomes a part of your future. Rick Warren writes: “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.”


People of strong character don’t judge people before really knowing them or the facts about a situation. A lovely little girl was holding two apples with both hands. Her mom came in and softly asked her daughter with a smile, “My sweetie, could you give your mom one of your two apples?”


The girl looked up at her mom for some seconds, then she suddenly took a quick bite on one apple, and then quickly on the other. The mom felt the smile on her face freeze. She tried hard not to reveal her disappointment.


Then the little girl handed one of her bitten apples to her mom, and said, “Mommy, here you are. This is the sweeter one.”


Personally, this has been one of my toughest on-going challenges and I continue to work on this. We are all continuous works in progress. Hal Urban sums this up beautifully: “Not long ago I heard a sermon about the dangers of judging others. It made sense, not only from a spiritual standpoint, but also from a psychological one. I felt more than a little guilty afterward as I began to recount all the times I’ve judged others throughout the various stages of my life. Then, when I asked myself if it was something I still did, I felt even worse because the answer was yes. The truth is most people do have a problem with judging others. Since hearing that sermon, I’ve asked literally hundreds of people, of all ages, and both in and out of church settings, it they struggle with judging others. Without a single exception, they all indicated it was a battle for them.”


Every single person on the planet has a story; there’s a reason why they are the way we are. No matter who you are, how experienced you are, and how knowledgeable you think you are, always delay judgment. Give others the benefit of the doubt and the privilege to explain themselves.  I read a quote recently from our old friend anonymous, “Don’t judge my choices if you don’t understand my reasons.” What you see may not be the reality; not all wounds are so obvious. Walk gently in the lives of others. And remember, never judge someone by the opinion of another.


One of my favorite teaching modules is “Practice the Pause.” Lori Deschene writes: “Practice the pause. Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you’re about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret.”


People of strong character do not participate in spreading or even listening to gossip.


People of strong character make everybody feel like a somebody. During Mark’s first month of college, the professor gave his students a pop quiz. He was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until he read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school” Surely this was some kind of joke. He had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50’s, but how would he know her name? He handed in his paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward the quiz grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They each deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello." Mark never forgot that lesson. Everyone is important. He also learned her name was Dorothy.


People of strong character do not participate in spreading or even listening to gossip. The buck stops here! They make a habit of shutting down conversations that aim to tear others down. John Maxwell writes: “It’s been said that great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others. That’s what gossip does. It makes people small. There really is no upside to gossip. It diminishes the person being talked about. It diminishes the person who is saying unkind things about others and it even diminishes the listener. That’s why you should avoid not only spreading gossip but also being a recipient of it.” Karen Salmansohn states: “Gossips are worse than thieves because they steal another person’s dignity, honor, reputation, and credibility which are impossible to restore. So remember this: when your feet slip, you can always recover your balance, but when your tongue slips you cannot recover your words.”


People of strong character apologize when appropriate. Apologizing doesn’t always mean you are wrong and the other person is right. It means you value your relationship more than your ego. Things you don’t need to apologize for: saying no, following your dream, taking “me” time, your priorities, ending a toxic relationship, your imperfections, standing your ground, delay in your response, or telling the truth.


In the essential Calvin & Hobbs, Calvin says to his tiger friend, Hobbes, “I feel bad that I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I’m sorry I did it.”

“Maybe you should apologize to her,” Hobbes suggests.

Calvin ponders for a moment and replies, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.”


Sometimes saying sorry is the most difficult thing on earth. But it is the cheapest thing to save the most expensive gift called relationship.


People of strong character are kind. Kindness is an attitude of being considerate and helpful to others. You can make all the difference in someone’s day. Kindness is not an act; it is a lifestyle. Mandy Hale writes: “You will be remembered more for your kindness than any leveled success you could possibly attain.” You might think that you don’t matter in this world, but because of you, someone has a favorite mug to drink their coffee out of that you bought them. Someone hears a song on the radio and it reminds them of you. Someone remembered a joke you told them and smiled to themselves. Never think you don’t have an impact.


People of strong character are forgiving. They make conscious, intentional decisions to let go of resentments and anger toward someone for an offense, whether or not forgiveness is sought by the offender. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. There will be a future blog dedicated wholly to the topic of forgiveness.


There are so many other character traits worthy of discussion: loyalty, respect, fairness, responsibility, reliability, self-discipline, and being authentic. These will all be addressed in future blogs.


In the last blog, we discussed laws, rules and principles and how they impacted our lives and our interactions with others. I saved the following specifically to close this blog. Here are some unwritten rules in life for you to consider:


When you are talking with people, put your phone away, maintain eye contact and really listen.


Do not check e-mails or texts when you are in a meeting, especially if someone is addressing the group.


When someone shows you a picture on their phone, don’t swipe left or right.


When the host starts cleaning, the party’s over and you need to go home.


Let people get off an elevator, a bus, or a train before you get on.


Don’t make plans with friends, or talk about plans with friends, in front of people who aren’t included or invited.


If someone’s wearing headphones or trying to sleep on a plane, they don’t want to talk.


Unless you are under 30, don’t ask your friends to help you move. Hire movers.


Summing up:


Courtesy is the shortest distance between two people.


Be the type of person you want to meet.


You are always responsible for how you act, no matter how you feel.


Next month: Be Yourself But Be Your Best Self 


Who are your greatest role models? Do you have some of these qualities in yourself?


Are there any qualities in others that you can’t tolerate?


Think back to a time when you formed a strong, but false opinion about someone you had just met. Ask yourself whether your judgment was based on their name, accent, looks or some other trait. Then recall what made you aware you were wrong and how you felt as a result of this realization. Did it change your behavior towards the person? Did it make you more or less open minded in future encounters?


One day, you’ll just be a memory to some people. Do your best to be a good one. How do you want to be remembered?


Really spend some quality time going over this month’s quotes. How do they resonate with you? Remember, these quotes are carefully chosen to reflect key principles and concepts of each month’s blog.





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