Character is Everything

A hiker overlooks the sunset. Text "Not all classrooms have four walls" appears on the graphic.

Let us endeavour 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.”

Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “About morals, I know only what is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”

Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone may be looking. The following quote was written about the character of Abraham Lincoln. “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.” Lincoln was a role model for character, integrity, and honesty, traits that never left him.

How times have changed! 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 heavens!” said one lady to the other. “Isn’t it awful that they have to put two people in the same grave.”

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.”

Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone may be looking.

In the last lesson, we discussed the fact that we are all subject to universal laws, rules and principles. I’d like to continue on that theme. Personally, I’ve learned over the years that a strong code of ethics is as reliable as a compass.

If you are a regular viewer of NCIS, the question often comes up, "Where did Gibb’s rules come from?" I believe he has over 40 rules to live by.

No, they were not taught to him by his father, or his schooling. He actually learned about rules the first time he sat down with his future wife in the show, Shannon.

Both teenagers, they were about to take a train trip. Gibbs is dressed in his military uniform. And he suggested they sit together. Her response was, “I’m not sure. It’s a long trip. But you don’t look like a lumberjack. I have a rule, it’s either number one or number three. I don’t date lumberjacks.”

Gibbs responded, “Do you have rules for everything?”

Shannon replies, “I’m working on it. You have to have a code you can live by.”

In his landmark song, ‘Teach Your Children Well’ Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash, penned:


Who are on the road.

Must have a code,

That you can live by.

What is your code? What principles do you live by? Are you a person of character?

Frank Outlaw writes:

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.

People of character always tells the truth.

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. Unfortunately, not everyone leads by example.

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.”

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.”

I often wonder if some people only exist as examples of what to avoid.

People of 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.” 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. I saw printed on a coffee cup once, “Counting the three times I cheated this week, I won at Solitaire three times.”

A topic I would like to present here is that of ‘emotional maturity.’ Emotional maturity is a preface for a sense of values. Maturity begins when we’re content to feel we’re right about something without feeling the necessity to prove someone else wrong. Maturity means dependability, keeping one’s word, coming through in a crisis. It’s being able to say, I was wrong. Also, when right, the mature person need not experience the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so.” Maturity is patience. It is the willingness to pass up immediate pleasure in favour of long-term gain.

Maturity is learning to walk away from people and situations that threaten your peace of mind, self-respect, values, morals or self-worth.

Sam Ewin once said, “Hard work spotlights the character of people; some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.”

Dancer/actor Fred Astaire once said, “The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.” I would hope you have had in your life many role models who you can look to for leadership here - parents, spouses, friends, colleagues, clergy, teachers - who are strong character people.

Maturity is patience. It is the willingness to pass up immediate pleasure in favour of long-term gain.

If I was to put out a search for people of character, 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 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 colour 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 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. It means you are dependable; that you can be relied on, that you ‘show up.’

Loretta LaRoche writes, “About 15 years ago, my oldest son, John, was starting a landscaping business. We were talking about the new venture, and he was trying to come up with some kind of catchy slogan to put on the side of his truck. He went back and forth with several different play on words about gardens and the like.”

Then I suggested, “How about ‘I Show Up!’?” It started out as a kind of joke, for I personally found it incredibly frustrating when I had an appointment with some sort of service company and they kept me waiting, sometimes for hours, and often they didn’t show up at all. What’s wrong with coming right out and saying “I Show Up”? It’s like saying, “You can count on me! I’m dependable.”

So, there it went, right on the side of my son’s truck, in big, bold letters. His business is now quite successful.

Are you someone who shows up?

Have the courage to do what is right, even when it’s difficult.

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.”

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 character take personal responsibility for their actions.

Erica Jong once wrote, “Take your life into your own hands, and what happens. A terrible thing: no one to blame.”

The truth doesn’t cost anything but a lie could cost you everything.

Johnny’s report cards had been far from satisfactory. One day one arrived a little worse even than those which had proceeded it. Johnny’s father announced that it would be a subject of discussion after dinner.

When the time came, the father appeared with the card in hand and, after reviewing it one more time, said, “Well, Johnny, how do you account for such a miserable showing in your schoolwork?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” answered Johnny. "What do you think it is? Heredity or environment?” Heredity has been described as a splendid phenomenon that relieves us of responsibility for our shortcomings.

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

A young 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, judging others 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 afterwards 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.

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 behaviour towards the person? Did it make you more or less open minded in future encounters?

One of my favourite 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 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 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.

Everyone needs recognition for his accomplishments but few people make it known quite so clearly as the little boy who said to his father, “Let’s play darts. I’ll throw and you say wonderful!”

People of character do not participate in spreading or 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.” People who engage in gossip and spreading rumors are worse than thieves because they steal another person’s dignity, honor, reputation, and credibility which are impossible to restore. When your feet slip, you can always recover your balance, but when your tongue slips you cannot recover your words.

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

People of character can admit when they were wrong.

If you were to ask what is the hardest task in the world, you might think of some muscular feat, some aerobic challenge, or some chore to be done at work or on the playing field. Actually, there is no thing we find more arduous than saying, ‘I was wrong.’ A person should never be ashamed to own he or she has been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words, that they are wiser today than they were yesterday.

People of character can say “I don’t know.”

There’s no shame in not knowing. No one has it all figured out. There’s no shame in saying, “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainty, but we can’t possibly know everything. We learn as we go, that’s life. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

People of character are forgiving.

They make conscious, intentional decisions to let go of resentments and anger toward someone or themselves 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 lesson 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 lessons.

Yes, I’ve been called ‘old’ school. I have good manners. I show others respect. I always help those who need me. I don’t feel that I’m old fashioned; it’s because I was raised properly. Manners have no best before date; they are timeless principles to live by. It’s part of being enrolled in ‘life school.’ Jim Rohn wrote, “Unlike your fingerprints that you are born with and can’t change, character is something that you create within yourself and you must take responsibility for changing. You are always responsible for how you act, no matter how you feel.

Remember, discipline is doing what you know needs to be done, even though you don’t want to.

Be the type of person you want to meet.

Food for Thought

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

Do you ever break your own rules of conduct?

Do you ever find yourself living outside of your definition of integrity?

Why do human beings do things which they know are bad?

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

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.

Being honest mat not get you many friends, but it will always get you the right ones.

- John Lennon

Always tell the truth and you never have to remember what you said.

- T.L. Osborn

A kid grows up a lot faster on the golf course. Golf teaches you how to behave.

- Jack Nicklaus

No one can climb above the limitations of his own character.

- John Morley

Respect has nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong. It has to do with allowing space for someone else’s opinion.

- Jackie Viramontez

Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.

- J.C. Watts

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

- J.K. Rowling

The only way you can truly control how you are seen is by being honest all the time.

- Tom Hanks

I have never developed indigestion from eating my own words.

- Winston Churchill

I’m big on manners. I’m big on politeness. I’m big on gratitude.

- Kate Hudson

If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule. Never lie to yourself.

- Paulo Coelho

Condemnation without investigation is the highest form of ignorance.

- Albert Einstein

You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him.

- Audrey Hepburn

There is no better test of a man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.

- Marvin Williams

A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.

- Dave Barry

Live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.

- Will Rogers

The time is always right to do what is right.

- Martin Luther King

When you judge someone, you don’t define them, you define yourself.

- Dr. Wayne Dyer

An apology is the superglue of life. It can repair just about anything.

- Lynn Johnston

The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good and how he treats people who can’t fight back.

- Abigail Van Buren

It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.

- Eleanor Roosevelt.

You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.

- Henry Ford

It’s our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

- J.K. Rowling

We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.

- Albus Dumbledore

To keep your character intact you cannot stoop to filthy tasks. It makes it easier to stoop the next time.

- Katharine Hepburn

People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.

- Steven Wright

I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.

- Lady Gaga

Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.

- Anne Frank

Next Lesson: Be Yourself but Be Your Best Self

Subscribe to get updates when new lessons are published >