“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” - James D. Miles
As she poured hot coffee into his mug early that morning, she noticed the guard’s countenance was more contemplative than usual. He was a man with something on his mind. She had waited on him many times and considered him a friend so she asked about his concerns.
He told her a story that morning she never forgot. He told her a guard with more seniority had become angry at a prisoner and demanded he collaborate with him on a lie to get the prisoner a longer sentence. The guard had refused.
“I know there will be consequences,” he said, “but it’s not right to lie against someone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.”
She knew about the unspoken bond between law enforcement officers. Most followed the “I’ll cover your back if you cover mine” rule. She knew that often included covering wrongdoing, especially if one had a vendetta against a person. She knew he would pay a price for refusing the senior guard’s request, and there was no way to know how high that price would be for this man of integrity.
He was a rare one. She waited on many guards from the nearby prison, but this one was clearly a different breed. She never found out what happened in the end, but she never forgot the guard or what he said to her that day.
Life presents us with many opportunities to compromise our beliefs and our character. The guard could have easily gone along with the senior guard’s demands and no one would have been the wiser except him and the prisoner. He could have taken the easier path and made his time at his job flow smoothly. He could have avoided the conflict he knew his choice would cause.
The conflict of character. True character always creates conflict whenever it asserts itself against what is wrong or unjust. It always causes the boat of complacency and conformity to rock.
But the man knew his conscience would continually remind him of what he had done. He knew the prisoner’s eyes would look at him every day knowingly. To many, it would not have mattered. But to him it did. No one deserved injustice and he believed in doing what was right, even if no one was looking, even if no one else would have ever known because he himself would have known and that was enough.
People tend to judge us by who they think we are, but inside we know who we really are. We know if, in situations where no one else will know, in situations where we believe we will not be found out, if we chose the right thing or the wrong thing. That
is what makes us who we are. That is our character.
Good character is its own reward. When we have good character, like the guard, we can face ourselves in the mirror and feel good, we have nothing to hide from others or from ourselves. When we have good character, we ourselves become someone we admire – and someone others can emulate. Good character makes others want to know you as a person, want to have you as a friend and want to do business with you.
Good character always brings a good reputation.
Character is your true nature, not the nature you show others. It is your moral value on the inside, the
sum of all your moral decisions, not just the ones people know about you.
Character, as J.C. Watts said, is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.
“Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are”. - Dale Carnegie
Excerpted from Sidewalk Flowers, Vol. 1
Related Text Illustrations
Contributed by Brian Mavis on Oct 30, 2000
Our house was directly across the street from the clinic entrance of John Hopkins in Baltimore. We lived downstairs and rented the upstairs rooms to outpatients at the clinic. One summer evening as I was fixing supper, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to see a truly awful looking man. ...read more
Contributed by Owen Bourgaize on Oct 27, 2000
I read an amusing story about the first Duke of Wellington. An inventor was trying to interest him in a bulletproof waistcoat he had made. It was absolutely marvellous and could save the great man’s life if somebody tried to assassinate him. The Iron Duke asked the man to put it on, and he ...read more
Contributed by Dennis Marquardt on Jan 23, 2001
ILLUS: Moral erosion continues in America, according to James Patterson and Peter Kim. They report that 74 percent of Americans will steal from those who won’t miss it, and 64 percent will lie for convenience as long as no one is hurt. Most Americans (93 percent) say they alone decide moral ...read more