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COMMENTARY 972.1: Confessions of a Lincoln Groupie

I am an Abraham Lincoln groupie. He is my biggest hero. I have a huge collection of books and Lincoln memorabilia, my daughter, Abrielle, was named after him as was one of our family dogs. And by blind chance, my son Justin was born on his birthday. I often visit the Lincoln Memorial and stand in awe of his magnificent …

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COMMENTARY 971.4: A Parable About Integrity and Rationalizations – How Much Do You Want It to Be?

The founder of a company needed to choose his successor. He studied resumes and talked to references, but he decided to ask only one question during the final interview: “How much is 2 + 2?” Ann, the first candidate, worried that there was a trick but she answered straightforwardly. “There’s only one correct answer: it’s four.” Terry, who had an …

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COMMENTARY 971.1: HOW AND WHEN TO CONVEY HARD TRUTHS — Motive, Tact, Tone, and Timing

Trustworthiness is essential to good relationships, and honesty is essential to trustworthiness. Being honest isn’t simply telling the truth, though. It’s also being sincere and forthright. Thus, it’s just as dishonest to deceive someone by half-truths or silence as it is to lie. But what if honesty requires us to volunteer information that could be damaging or hurtful? For example, …

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COMMENTARY 970.3: Loopholes and Slippery Slopes

As a former law professor, I know all about loopholes. I trained students to find omissions and ambiguities in wording — a perfectly legal way to evade the clear intent of laws and agreements. After all, that’s what lawyers are paid to do. And, despite commonly expressed disdain when lawyers do this, that’s precisely what most clients want and expect when …

COMMENTARY 970.2: A Government Program That Is Working

I was pleasantly surprised that my visit to detention camps for juvenile girls run by the Los Angeles Probation Department turned out to be encouraging and uplifting. Instead of finding a cadre of angry and hostile girls in a punitive prison setting, I saw clean classrooms attended by very

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COMMENTARY 969.4: 12 HARD-WON LIFE CHANGING INSIGHTS

Perhaps the only major advantage of getting older is the prospect of getting wiser. I think I’ve learned a great many things over the years but here are a dozen of my most treasured insights. I am still a work in process; that as long as I can think I can learn. I still have a lot to learn but if …

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COMMENTARY 969.1: Remembering the Civil Rights Movement

I grew up in the 1960’s and remember the tumultuous times in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made his historic mark on American society. Dr. King was always one of my heroes. So I was delighted a few years ago when I was asked to deliver an address about his legacy. I wasn’t ready, however, for the range and depth of …

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COMMENTARY 968.4: The Seven Cs of Character

As you consider your goals for the New Year, I hope you’ll think about working on your character. No, you’re not too old and I don’t mean to imply you’re a bad person. As I’ve said often, “you don’t have to be sick to get better.” In fact, it’s a lot easier to make a good person better than a …

COMMENTARY 967.2: What I Believe

Here’s a portion of my personal list of beliefs that you may want to pass on: I believe I’m a work-in-progress, and there will always be a gap between who I am and who I want to be. I believe every day brings opportunities to learn and do something meaningful. I believe the true test of my character is whether …

COMMENTARY 966.4: The Cowboy Code

I grew up in much simpler times. Television was in its infancy, and the idea of a hero was exemplified by a white-hatted cowboy. There was a clarity and simplicity to this hero’s moral code that left no doubt there is a right and wrong. As I became more sophisticated, it was easy to ridicule these simplistic approaches to ethics …

COMMENTARY 965.3: I Just Have to Outrun You

During a camping trip, Sam and Tom saw a bear coming their way. Sam started to take off his backpack and told Tom he was going to run for it. When his surprised friend said, “You can’t outrun a bear,” Sam replied, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.” Sadly, this look-out-for-number-one mentality is …

COMMENTARY 962.5: Rules About Trust

I’ve talked about it lots of times before: The high cost of lying and deception — by politicians and police, corporate executives and clergy, even journalists, accountants and educators — has been to weaken every major social institution. As each of these institutions wages its separate battle to remove the cloud of suspicion and cynicism that hovers over it, there …

COMMENTARY 962.4: Listening: A Vital Dimension of Respect

We demonstrate the virtue of respect for others by being courteous and civil and treating everyone in a manner that acknowledges and honors basic human dignity. An important but often neglected aspect of respect is listening to what others say. Respectful listening is more than hearing. It requires us to consider what’s being said. That’s hard when we’ve heard it …

COMMENTARY 960.4: What I Know About Life

The older I get, the less I know — but I know some things: I know that I’m a work in process and that there will always be a gap between who I am and who I want to be. I know that I don’t have to be sick to get better and that every day brings opportunities to improve …

COMMENTARY 959.1: Trust Involves Character and Competence

Today, I want to talk about the qualities that generate trust. I’m talking about being trustworthy, not trusting others. There’s a relationship between the two concepts, but a decision to trust another is a choice, not a moral obligation. Being trustworthy, however, is an indispensable aspect of good character. Thus, we should always act so as to be worthy of …

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COMMENTARY 958.4: Live Backwards

Ben just came to town as a new rabbi. Unfortunately, his first official duty was to conduct a funeral service for Albert, a man who died in his eighties with no relatives. Since Ben didn’t know the deceased personally, he paused from his sermon to ask if anyone in the congregation would say something good about Albert. There was no …

COMMENTARY 958.2: The Power in Me

When my daughter Samara was 8, she wrote a poem as a song for some friends who were thinking of starting a band. When she showed it to her mom she said, “Don’t show it to Daddy because he will want to read it on the radio.” She was right. I did want to share it, but she asked me …

COMMENTARY 958.1: The Intimidating Power of Integrity

A teacher once wrote telling me that a parent with a great deal of clout at her school asked her to change attendance records to make her child’s record look better. The teacher said she thought long and hard about the request but eventually refused, knowing it would make the parent angry. I commended her moral courage. I wish it …

COMMENTARY 957.4: The Golden Rule as the Road of Honor

Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, Confucius was asked, “Is there one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” He answered, “Reciprocity. What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” This basic principle, now called the Golden Rule, can be found in every major religion and philosophy. …

COMMENTARY 954.4: Moral Courage — The Engine of Integrity

Mignon McLaughlin tells us, “People are made of flesh and blood and a miracle fiber called courage.” Courage comes in two forms: physical courage and moral courage. Physical courage is demonstrated by acts of bravery where personal harm is risked to protect others or preserve cherished principles. It’s the kind of courage that wins medals and monuments.Moral courage may seem less …

COMMENTARY 953.2: Great Pitcher or Great Hitter? It’s a Matter of Perspective

Does attitude really mean that much? Can you really change the way you experience the world by changing your perspective? Consider this story: When Ron gave his seven-year-old son Nick a ball and bat, Nick wanted to play immediately. Ron said, “Son, baseball is a serious game. You have to practice hard before you can play it.”  The boy went outside …

COMMENTARY 953.1: The Ultimate Gift

Jimmy was nine when his mom told him his little sister was sick and would die if she didn’t get a blood transfusion – and Jimmy was one of the only people in the world who had the rare blood type needed. She asked if he would be willing to let the doctors give some of his blood to his …

COMMENTARY 946.1: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

R – E – S – P – E – C – T. Aretha Franklin reminded us how it’s spelled, but a lot of us need coaching on how to show it. In both personal and political relationships the failure to treat each other with respect is generating incivility, contempt and violence. There’s an important distinction between respecting a person …

COMMENTARY 945.1: Granddaddy’s Gift

Years ago, a Southern woman was in one of my workshops. When asked to tell a story that impacted her character, she described an incident when she was 5. She was at her grandfather’s house all dressed up in a white dress with a crinoline and new gloves, proud as she could be. Her granddaddy told her she could go …

COMMENTARY 944.5: Lying Is Like Drunk Driving

Sometimes lying makes our lives easier. If you want the day off, just call in sick. If your boss asks if you’ve finished a report, say you left it at home. And if an irate customer calls, just make up a good cover story. Technically these are lies, but since no one’s hurt, what’s the big deal?

Everyday Ethics: What You Do in the Grocery Store (944.1)

You can tell a lot about people’s character by how they act at the grocery store. I remember being in a crowded store when there was a shortage of shopping carts. A prosperous-looking fellow was pushing a cart when another man stopped him. “Excuse me,” the second man said, “but this is my cart.” The first guy looked really annoyed. …

COMMENTARY 942.5: Eighteen Random Rules of Life

I love maxims, those concise capsules of worldly wisdom. I collect them and write them and, of course, love to share them. Here are 18 random rules of life worth posting on your mirror or, better yet, using as dinner-time discussion starters. Find the lesson in every failure and you’ll never fail. The likelihood that you’re right is not increased …

COMMENTARY 940.2: The Struggle Between Wants and Shoulds

As a full-time ethicist – can you believe there is such a thing? – I spend most of my time talking about right and wrong with parents and politicians, kids and corporate managers, journalists and generals. One thing I’ve learned is that ethics – being a good person and doing the right thing – is easier said than done. Ethics, …

COMMENTARY 937.5: A Person of Character

Let’s face it, it’s not easy to become a person of character. It takes a good heart, but it also requires wisdom to know right from wrong and the discipline to do right even when it’s costly, inconvenient or difficult. Becoming a person of character is a lifelong quest to be better. A person of character values honesty and integrity …