Here is a story that I think you will enjoy. Children lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the end of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun took a note and posted on the tray of apples: “Take only ONE. God is watching. Further along the queue, 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 looks at apples. This girl is probably one of those characters that could use a little 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, corporate walls, and government offices. The list is lengthened increasingly. The character and the necessity of ethics are trying to return. But it seems the more we push the “right” character into our world, the more characters we get into our world. Our present lack of character is because character comes from within us, not from outside of us. You cannot change your character by getting a facelift. Likewise, a person’s character is like a fence — it cannot be strengthened by whitewash.
Character and ethics determine long-term success. Our talents, drive, gifts, or abilities can take us to the top, but character keeps us on top. Realizing our full potential becomes impossible without good character. Let’s put it this way. Massive character flaws and deficiencies in people and leaders produce relationships that are limited and protected by those affected by character flaws and weaknesses. People and institutions are withdrawing. Why? There is no trust. Trust is the currency of meaningful and fulfilling relationships.
Let me give you an example. Years ago, I was contacted by a senior United Nations official. He told me that he was the head of a United Nations program whose goal was to find “ethical” people who could teach character in cities all over Russia. He said many Western companies try to invest and do business in Russia, but due to a lack of basic business ethics, most leave Russia. The United Nations solution has been to find leaders with a strong ethical lifestyle and introduce those values to the Russian business community through seminars across Russia.
We will not succeed with employees, politicians, teachers, academics, business leaders and the like who are characterless characters. This type of personality-driven, media-supported leadership will have a limited lifespan. It’s not sustainable. Leaders and people with substantial character issues may succeed in the short term, but it will get them in the long run. So many times the way to find out about one person is to ask them about another. Ouch!
Some people have a compartmentalized character. They can be very trustworthy in some areas of their life but untrustworthy in other parts of their life. For example, a person may be very responsible by earning a good living, but inconsistent by investing time with their family or being faithful to their spouse. A person may have a magnetic personality, but much of what they say is wrong.
It’s easy to be swayed or impressed by people like these because we focus on their positive attributes but look away from the negative and 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 essential for any nation, business or person who wants life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “To educate a man in spirit and not in morals (values) is to educate a threat to society. Lindsay White of Costa’s Fresh Produce says, “We used to hire people for their skills, but 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 alert or negligent employee; sympathetic or indifferent; diligent or lazy; ordered or confused; complete or incomplete? The answer should be obvious if you are trying to develop a good organization.
Here are some questions to consider. If you are an employee, what type of employer do you prefer? A generous or stingy, attentive or distracted employer; wise or foolish; truthful or false? Enough said.
Our national and personal character can be our best friend or our worst enemy. My advice is to make good ethics your best friend. Good character is not old-fashioned. It is wise. Too many of us have given up hope of finding people of good character these days. Yet good character is still there, and history shows that peoples and nations who forget the need for sound ethics and character are soon forgotten.
Do not mistake yourself. Nobody is perfect. We all have areas where we could develop our character. Let me put it this way: it’s good to be a character, but you better have a good character too.
Ed Delph is a renowned author of 10 books, as well as a pastor, teacher, former business owner, and speaker. He has traveled widely, having visited over 100 countries. He is president of NationStrategy, a non-profit organization involved in uplifting and transforming communities around the world. For more information, see nationstrategy.com. He can be contacted at [email protected].