COMMENTARY 798.2: The Nature of Character

Abraham Lincoln was very concerned with character, but he also was aware of the importance of having a good reputation. He explained the difference this way: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Put another way, your reputation is what people think of …

Who You Are

It’s not where you’re from; it’s where you’re going. It’s not what you drive; it’s what drives you. It’s not what you think; it’s what you do. It’s not who you were; it’s who you become. It’s not who you know; it’s who you are. – Michael Josephson

COMMENTARY 781.1: Enough is Enough

What does it take to make you happy? How much do you have to have to be grateful? To the barefoot man, happiness is a pair of old shoes. To the man with old shoes, it’s a pair of new shoes. To the man with new shoes, it’s more stylish shoes. And, of course, the fellow with no feet would …

COMMENTARY 776.1: Avoiding Temptations

When my daughter Samara was four she pointed to a delicate glass vase and asked, “What’s that?” “It’s very special,” I answered. “It was my mother’s. I would really feel bad if it ever got broken, so please be careful to never, never touch it.” Without a moment’s hesitation she said, “Then you should never, never put it where I …

I Choose to Live 744.2

Michael was always upbeat. Some found his relentless good moods annoying, but attempts to mock or belittle his cheerfulness were just more fuel for his good nature. Once he explained to a friend how he did it. “Every morning I look in the mirror and say good morning to myself. I see a note on the mirror that says ‘Choose,’ …

Are You Wiser Today Than You Were Yesterday? 743.4

Do you think you’re any wiser today than you were five years ago? Do you think you’ll be wiser still in another five years? I hope the answer to both questions is an emphatic “yes.” One of the benefits of growing older is getting better. And we get better by learning. I’m not just talking about new facts like how …

God Will Provide

Bart’s home was in a flood area. The water was a foot high when a rescue truck offered to help him evacuate. Bart refused saying, “God will provide.” When the levee broke he had to climb onto the roof. A man in a row boat came by and urged him to get aboard but again Bart refused, “God will provide.” …

Hakuna Matata 740.2

Even as we enter a second decade after the 9/11 attacks, fear remains one of the most destructive legacies of terrorism. The further we get from the fire and dust of the decimated twin towers and the damaged Pentagon, the more evident it is how many ways fear amplifies the impact of the attacks. In moderation, fear can be a …

Words of Wisdom: Part Two 738.5

This is the promised Part Two of my list of words of wisdom for my daughter who just entered college. Take control of your life by taking control of your attitudes. Choose to be happy. Choose to be cheerful. Choose to be optimistic. Pursue your passions, but don’t confuse feelings with facts, fun with happiness, or pleasure with fulfillment. Listen …

It’s Not Easy 738.4

Let’s be honest. Ethics is not for wimps. It’s not easy being a good person. It’s not easy to be honest when it might be costly, to play fair when others cheat, or to keep inconvenient promises. It’s not easy to stand up for our beliefs and still respect differing viewpoints. It’s not easy to control powerful impulses, to be …

What I Want My Daughter to Get Out of Sports 736.5

Several years ago, when my daughter Carissa was about to enter her first gymnastics competition, I wrote her a letter expressing my hopes and goals for her athletic experience. Here’s a revised version: My dearest Carissa, I know you’ve worked hard to prepare yourself to compete, and I know how much you want to win. That’s a good goal. You …

Delusions of Grandeur 735.4

Think of the most ethical person you know. Do a lot of people come to mind or only a few? Are you having trouble thinking of anyone? If I asked that question of the people who know you well, how many would name you? Almost all? About half? Just a few? Unless this commentary makes you more humble, you will …

Management Maxim: Suitability Is As Important As Capability 734.4

A critical maxim of management is “Suitability is as important as capability.” Capability asks, “Can they do the job?” Suitability asks, “Are they right for the job?” If the job isn’t a good fit, it’s not a good job. Yes, an employee has to have (or be able to readily acquire) the skills and knowledge required for excellent job performance, …

Coach Wooden the Philosopher 734.3

According to Henry David Thoreau, a philosopher is a person who seeks to understand and solve the most serious problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. A true philosopher, Thoreau added, is so committed to wisdom that he seeks to live wisely and so lives a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. By this definition, John Wooden, my …

Shopping Carts and Rationalizations 733.5

When we think about character, we tend to envision really big things, like taking heavy risks, committing bold acts of integrity, being grandly generous, or making tough sacrifices. Such noble choices indicate character, but for the most part, our integrity is revealed in much smaller events, like apologizing when we’re wrong, giving to causes we believe in, being honest when …

Freedom From Ideological Tyranny 730.1

The Fourth of July should be more than a birthday celebration marked by fireworks. It’s a time to appreciate and honor the great democracy our forefathers created, including a profoundly wise system of Constitutional checks and balances. Conflicting views of rights and responsibilities are unavoidable, but passionate disagreement and debate should strengthen rather than undermine our commitment to peacefully and …

Listening: A Vital Dimension of Respect 729.5

The virtue of respectfulness is demonstrated by being courteous, being civil, and treating everyone in a manner that acknowledges and honors their essential human dignity. An important but often neglected aspect of respectfulness 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 before, …

Righteousness Is Revealed in Conduct, Not Rhetoric 729.4

It’s hard to look at the world and some of the people who seem to get ahead without occasionally asking ourselves why we should be ethical. However normal it is to think like this, the question should be off limits for people who profess strong religious beliefs. After all, what religion does not mandate morality? To authentically religious people, the …

Do I Have to Tell Everything? 728.4

Should a job applicant properly withhold information about a criminal record or termination from a previous job? Should a woman starting a new relationship say nothing about a previous marriage or abortion? These are problems of candor: When does an ethical person have a duty to reveal negative information about his or her past? First, let’s reinforce a basic premise: …

Heather and Hava 728.3

Life is full of all sorts of opportunities, many of which come in unexpected forms at unexpected times. For my wife’s friend Heather, an opportunity to do a great good deed came in the form of a scared and scrawny stray cat she found hiding in some bushes. Heather loves cats and thought of adopting it, but she already has …

Making Bricks or Building Cathedrals 727.5

According to an old parable, three men were working hard cutting stone from large blocks of granite. When asked what they were doing, the first fellow said, “I’m making bricks.” The second said, “I’m creating a foundation for a large building.” The third person answered, “I’m building a cathedral.” They are doing the exact same job, and all three responses …

Noah’s Term Paper 727.4

Noah needed an A on his term paper. A friend said that lots of kids recycled papers they didn’t write, and he offered to give him a paper his older brother had gotten an A on three years before. When Noah asked his father for advice, his dad told him he hoped he wouldn’t cheat, but he didn’t want to …

Filling Holes 727.3

Sam, a supervisor, was dumbfounded as he watched Bill diligently dig holes while Chuck, after waiting a short interval, filled them. When he demanded an explanation, Bill was indignant: “Chuck and I have been doing this job for more than 10 years. What’s your problem?” “Are you telling me that for 10 years you’ve been digging and filling empty holes?” …

Things Are Just Things 726.4

Years ago, a listener told me her mom died, leaving only a general will and a house full of personal items with sentimental and, in some cases, significant financial value. My listener said tensions were building among her two sisters and her as they approached the problem of allocating their mom’s stuff. Each sister had different and conflicting expectations. The …

Our Last Worst Act 725.4

I’m going to mention a few names and I want you to think of the first thing that comes to your mind with each: Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan, John Edwards, Kenneth Lay, Britney Spears, Andrew Bynum, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Tressel. Each person behind the name won fame in sports, business, politics, or music because of some extraordinary talents and achievements, …