Is a person’s character important today given our culture, our society? Is a person’s, a leader’s or politician’s character a variable that should be considered in measuring the individual? Is measuring or evaluating a person’s character a subjective exercise and therefore a judgmental endeavor? An increasing number of liberals in our evolving culture claim that, ‘nothing is black and white, everything is relative’, so how can anyone ask such a question?
Numerous famous and respected Americans have commented on and emphasized the need for character. Many have also insisted that Americans ‘need to know’ about character. Eleanor Roosevelt opined that, “Only a man's character is the real criterion of worth”; and Albert Einstein posited, “Most people say that it is the intellect which make a great [man]. They are wrong: it is character.” John Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have the right…and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to the most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers”. Abraham Lincoln commented, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” And Winston Churchill stated, “Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”
Many on the left will say these views are not applicable to society today which is much more diverse, multicultural and complicated. Each quotes’ validity depends on one’s point of view or perspective...thus the statements are clearly judgmental. Thankfully some people reject this response as elitist nonsense. They continue to believe there is good and evil, there are truths and there are lies...that an individual who knows honor, truth, good disposition, and caring are some of the important components of character will serve America with greater distinction than someone who doesn’t.
Character is the combination of traits and qualities that distinguishes one individual from another. Character can be either good or bad or on the continuum between good and bad; it is a set of ethic-based values that are not affiliated with any particular culture, or religion, class of people or even a political party. Character’s most desired traits can’t be bought; i.e. honesty, trustworthiness, courage, kindness, loyalty, caring, decency, accountability, fairness, and responsibility. Leaders can recognize and attract these positive traits only if they recognize, practice, believe in, and understand the traits themselves. In other words, at core, an individual or leader must be guided by a moral code, and a stringent set of ethics that they practice daily.
So how do we critically evaluate and determine character? In the past Americans seemed to instinctively know good character from bad, and understood that “good” character was important. We understood that Franklyn Roosevelt, Jack Welch, Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, Golda Meir and Pope John Paul II have or had very positive character traits, strong moral codes and solid ethical foundations even if we didn’t always agree with their philosophy, decisions, or politics.
We Americans learn about an individual’s or a leader’s character “over time” in “bits and pieces” or when something “gets our antenna up”, causing us to pay attention if only for a short period of time. But when we choose a friend, a leader or a candidate, we somehow determine whether the necessary character traits reside in that person...or do we? Have we decided to place on hiatus our ability to assess character or have we discounted its importance?
A careful examination of our interaction with a person or their record; their actions, demeanor, statements, decisions, history and the focus of those with whom they associate is a solid starting point for determining character. Americans ask themselves questions such as “does the individual appear to be responsible…do they hold themselves and others accountable…are they trustworthy…do they exhibit loyalty…are they fair and caring…do they listen and consider other points of view…are they plain spoken or always obfuscating, pettifogging and spinning…are they honest and factual in their statements…and will they treat friends, adversaries and acquaintances with integrity and fairness?
Yet Americans have apparently lost some of their ability to critically evaluate with confidence the character of individuals and potential leaders when confronted with a choice between a person’s character and material/financial benefits…i.e. stuff. But Americans are also beginning to understand that many with a deficit in positive character traits were elevated to influential positions only to quickly and selfishly succumbed to the prestige, perks, power and other trappings associated with their office.
To continue…good character is an anathema to many of our leaders…the components of good character and these leaders reside in separate universes. It’s difficult to reconcile their actions with the tragedies they have inflicted on our country without considering their character and finding it wanting. The knowledge of millions of Americans is now informing us “over time”, in “bits and pieces” of significant character deficiencies in these office holders. This budding knowledge will send many of them into retirement in the future. Yes, character is important…and Americans are hopefully beginning to again recognize its importance.