Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Character" - Our Most Precious National Resource

I've often told students, friends, and fellow teachers, that my primary motivation in choosing to become a teacher or "Character Educator" as I like to think of myself—is to have the opportunity to be a role-model and cultivate and instill the "values of good character" in young adults who are preparing to be the future leaders of tomorrow in this great country we call America. Character, in the form of integrity, trust, personal responsibility, self-discipline, solid moral standards of living and citizenship, is the fabric of a strong, healthy, and righteous society, built by genuinely courageous and respected leaders.

In today's world, it is never easy to stand up and "do the right thing", but people who have the personal courage and convictions to do so are the real heroes of our human race. They answer to a higher calling in supporting their families, communities, churches, and inevitably, their nation. The cornerstone of and litmus test for solid character is "Integrity", which can be described simply as "doing the right thing even when no one is looking".

Character too is something that can never be taken from you—rather, one has to lower their standards and consciously "give" this precious resource away; though the very act of doing so leads to a diminishing level of respect for self and from others. Character though speaks volumes as to who "YOU ARE" and determines whether or not others will trust you—including parents, significant others, and even your employer. In the absence of trust there is in fact no meaningful relationship to speak of. Citizen-leaders without a solid foundation of positive character traits and principles have nothing and instead struggle to overcome the consequences of corruption, a guilty conscience, and become their own worst enemy!

While many in society are out for self-gain at any cost, even compromising their reputations in the process, these people will not be valued and find themselves severely lacking in credibility. As a result, they will struggle to build and enjoy positive personal and professional relationships. Helen Gahagan Douglas said "Character isn't inherited. One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts, thought-by-thought, action-by-action. If one lets fear, hate or anger take possession of the mind, they become self-forged chains". John W. Holt, Jr. wrote that "The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do". My own ancestor, Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest U.S. Presidents and a man of steadfast character, said that "Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow—the shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing". Finally, Basketball coaching legend and mentor, John Wooden once commented to one of his players with these prophetic words of wisdom: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are".

The choice is yours—will you be a successful leader of tomorrow, motivated by goodwill and solid character-based principles? A person who will stand with the few, as those truly cherished citizens who have gained the trust and respect of others? Or will you exist for your own self-gain and pleasure at the expense of your family, community, and country, contributing little to the betterment of our democratic society while losing everything? How will others remember you when you're gone? It's all up to YOU!

Finally, when we exercise our freedom to vote, we must first, value and then seriously consider the integral importance of character in deciding who will lead our great nation into the future--because character really does matter and any formula for governmental change in the absence of integrity will inevitably yield "flawed leadership" with potentially disastrous national consequences.

- By William D. Park

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