COLUMN: Character matters

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By John Lapp

A recent U.S. president stated on at least one occasion that character doesn’t count. Well, maybe that’s his personal opinion. But it matters to me, and also for most of those with whom I have asked if it really matters to them.
We have been exposed more recently to many who are referred to as “superstars” in the world of politics, sports, entertainment and media who excel in their individual endeavors of life, yet there appears to be something missing— an ingredient that could, but often doesn’t, rank them at a higher level, that ingredient is what is commonly referred to as “character.”
Well, what then does this refer to? The definitions have been cited by many authors, but in order to not favor one over the other, I refer to a definition which is found in Merriam Webster’s Deluxe Dictionary, Tenth Collegiate Edition. Among many statements relative to this word, I find this definition: (which, by the way, seems to reflect the consensus of the opinions I have received from others when asked what they think “character” means) “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual” or “a person marked by notable or conspicuous traits (quite a character).”
It is often used to describe how a person acts, or perhaps moral excellence and firmness, for example, a statement such as “a man of sound character.”
Now, I still follow the sports scenes at times, and because we have such a vast amount of media available, nothing seems to go without someone mentioning the attitude of a particular athlete, statements like “he’s one of the best, if only he wasn’t so arrogant/cocky.”
Maybe that could also be stated about a particular politician, who looks and talks in a certain way to attract attention (popularity), yet there is a certain side of that person that emerges that seems to flavor a change in the opinions of many, a certain character flaw, which diminishes his/her original popularity.
We have seen some of this more recently in the world of politics, no names being mentioned of course.
Character really counts. I believe that it overshadows the credentials which are associated with some who have excelled in studies at prestigious colleges or universities, or have played a major sport at a well-known university and have achieved national notoriety. There appears to be a known flaw in that person’s overall characterization, which diminishes the prestige for which this person has been known.
So, what are the real things that stand out, actually mark the man or woman and the overall persona. In my personal opinion (and that is all it is), it has to do with some questions, such as who am I when no one is watching or what is the consensus (combined, overall opinion of me) from those who really know me as me?
And, unless I have been able to fool most of them for too long (and that is possible), that may be two of the best ways that really mark my true character.
Characterization portrayed in a drama or fiction by an actor/actress is probably not who that person is in real life, but unfortunately many of those who have portrayed a certain personality in a movie or play have played that part so well, and often for so long, that many fans are shocked to find that the actor/actress is not even remotely similar to the part that was played. I guess this is a sign of excellence in that profession.
One actor stands out as he often played the part of who he was in his real life — that man was John Wayne. He always played the part of a tough guy, not mean but tough. It was reported that during the Vietnam War years, while he, a great American patriot and lover of those who fought in our military units, was doing a speech and noticed in the crowd someone waving a flag, promoting the known enemy, Wayne got incensed, abruptly halted his speech, walked off the platform, walked up to this man, grabbed his flag, broke it in half, and then proceeded to tell him that he had better not wave that flag again or he may find it placed in a certain part of his body. This represented the real John Wayne, who played a gallant warrior in many of his movies. His real character, not just what his acting part was in the movies, came through very loudly.
What you are known for, what positive affects you have made, what you have done for others that maybe very few, if any, even know about is what is the true mark of your character. And, really, does it matter who, or how many, know about it? You know about it and you have a sense of personal, not arrogant, pride in doing that deed, so keep it up. Don’t stop now. We need more of you who display integrity and moral character in a society that has sometimes lost its way and drifted in a different direction. Ask yourself: “How did we move in one generation from a society with a shared, confident sense of right to a society of relativism and moral decay, often producing that the right thing is basically subjective?” It is not. Always do the right thing, even if no one is watching. God is, and he keeps excellent records.