CONGRATULATIONS! Announcing the Winners of the 2011 Commentary Essay Contest!

In the fall of 2011, the Josephson Institute of Ethics created a special contest to celebrate the end of Michael Josephson’s extraordinary run of more than 14 years  on KNX-AM1070 radio in Los Angeles. Listeners and newsletter readers were invited to write short essays on how his radio commentaries had make a positive impact on their lives. The prize: the top five essayists would be invited to a private luncheon to meet and talk with Michael.

We received more than 75 entries. Readers of the blog and the Commentary Newsletter were invited to read the essays of ten finalists  and vote for the five they thought were most worthy. The five winners have been invited to a private luncheon with Michael on January 18, 2012, and everyone who wrote an essay is invited to a reception later in the day to meet and chat with Michael and Josephson Institute staff. We ae all looking forward to it.

Congratulations to the winners: Suzanne Carter, Pat Chambers, Denise Osier-Bell, Jim Uhl and  David Williams. Read on to see the winning and runner-up essays.


Below are the essays written by the five winners and the five runners-up. Thank you to all the entrants! It was a privilege and pleasure to read your thoughts.

Winners ( in alphabetical order)  * indicates one of top three vote getters

*Suzanne Carter
There is no radio broadcaster who has had a greater impact on my life than Michael Josephson.  I began teaching high school in 1999 and every day there was a positive message to motivate me and inspire me to be the best teacher I could be.  In 2003, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer.  Those were very dark days.  I had two small children and a wonderful husband.  During my treatments and my darkest times, I would listen to Character Counts! with renewed purpose.

I remember one particular broadcast that was about people who take tragedy or difficulty and make the best of it by throwing themselves into helping others.  I needed to hear that at this time.  So I decided that instead of letting my cancer and treatments beat me down and make others feel sorry for me, I was going to be happy and help wherever I could.

This has had a lasting impact on my life.  People still say to me, “You were so happy and helpful that it was hard to believe you were suffering.”  I thank Character Counts! for that.  The morning I heard that sweet message changed me forever. Almost 10 years later, and I still live each day to be happy and helpful.  I teach high school and what I’ve learned from Character Counts! finds it way into my classroom, from encouraging kids to have integrity, to living life by being kind.  I know my daily reminder from Character Counts! has made a difference.

Pat Chambers
I can’t remember the exact year, but I remember the experience.

I was sitting at a PTA California state convention as a first-time attendee and my head was spinning with all the PTA information.  Someone told me not to miss the workshops given on broader subjects, so I picked Michael Josephson’s workshop.  Mr. Josephson made the statement, “Think about what kind of family you are going to be.”  He gave examples:  We are a family that throws our trash away at Burger King, that returns shopping carts to the right places, that says thank you to service people. 

I knew what type of a family we were going to be.  I became an avid reader of the commentaries on line as I needed that boost to keep my resolve on what type of a family we were going to be.  Often as my children grew, I would print out a commentary and it would become dinner time discussion.  I used commentaries at meetings,  and forwarded them to friends who also started to receive the commentaries.  Their children came into my home knowing what my expectations of truthfulness, kindness, and integrity would be because we have had a weekly class on parenting.  What type of a family are we going to be?  We are a family I can be proud of, not without problems, but with the ethics to work through them.  This will affect how my grandchildren are parented and  it will affect my family for generations to come.

We hope to hear and read you for years to come.

*Denise Osier-Bell
I left the Sheriff’s Department to go back to college to become a teacher in 2001. I wanted to make a difference and to help change the fate of some of the young men that are in and out of our jail system. I was a single mother of two young children. I knew it would be difficult, but did not realize how difficult. There were times when I was doing homework at 3 am, after working 2 jobs, taking care of the children and the house, thinking I couldn’t do it.

I would read and re-read Mr. Josephson’s commentary on Sweet Adversity (#596.3). It would always keep me going. His words would inspire me to continue and persevere. “The road to achievement and fulfillment is dotted with hazards and tragedies that can wound us, frighten us, and slow us down. But afflictions and misfortunes can stop us only if we surrender.” These words made me courageous! The poem included in this commentary hangs on the wall of my classroom to this day.

Ten years later, I graduated cum laude with my children by my side. Now I teach at-risk youth at Reseda High School in the San Fernando Valley. I teach Character Counts! to all of them and have been to Character Counts! training. I will not surrender. Michael Josephson is my rock star. The commentaries I receive by email inspire and motivate me to be better. I will remember to lead by example and always “struggle visibly.”

Jim Uhl
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times;  when necessary, use words.”  I do not personally know Michael Josephson.  I wish I did.  I think it would only enrich the gift he has already been in my life.  Because I do not know him, I cannot say with certainty that he preaches the gospel of ethics beyond his words.  However, one does not always have to see something to believe in it.  With his words, Michael has made me believe in something very special; words can change the world.  Michael’s words have changed my world and I have transcended his words into my action.

Like all people, I make judgments.  Tragically, I have done this when facing things I know nothing about.  This is easily done when facing a panhandler and deciding whether to give.

After reading Michael’s commentary, “Choose Caring Over Judging,” I no longer struggle with the choice of giving.  In fact, my burden of choice is replaced by the freedom of kindness.  Michael inspired me no longer just to give; I now connect.  In addition to dropping a bill into an unwashed hand, I now add the simple act of looking into the eyes of another human being and asking them their name.  They are a little surprised, but this quickly fades into a grateful smile.  I then call them by their name and simply wish them good luck.  No longer is this something to be judged, this is a person to be valued.

Thank you, Michael!

*David Williams

I confess that I keep a secret list of influential people with whom I would some day love to converse over lunch. Among those at my table would be talk radio host Dennis Prager and deposed Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach. I’ve had to revise my list over the years because UCLA basketball coach John Wooden is no longer with us, and innovator Steve Jobs recently lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. One seat has remained constant, however, since I first heard his unassuming voice deliver a powerful commentary on character while I sat stuck in traffic: Michael Josephson. And now, in the irony of all ironies, I am the one appealing to be included on his list!

My work as a high school teacher is greatly enhanced through Michael’s commentaries. On February 10, 2011, for example, a student in my AP English class was killed in a car accident. It was difficult to explain to devastated classmates why bad things happen to good people, but I used Michael’s words to help them cope with the tragedy: “If we want to move beyond our grief and find continuing meaning in our lives, we shouldn’t ask, ‘Why did this happen?’ but ‘What am I going to do with the life I have now?'”

For fourteen years, I have also personally grown with Michael, learning to summon the moral courage to choose the road less traveled and to build my character “day by day, decision by decision.”


Meg Bowen Beauchamp
In 2005 at the age of 44, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant.  My husband and I were shocked, to say the least, and I laughingly tell people that I had to use reading glasses to read my pregnancy test!

During my pregnancy, I began to re-examine my priorities and assess  how I would impart the right value system to our child. Mr. Josephson’s words resonated with me so much.  One story that stuck with me was the story of a boy asking his father for advice on whether to use a paper that someone else had written for an assignment.  The  father chose to defer to what the son wanted.  Mr. Josephson reminded listeners that this was a “teaching opportunity” for the father and that by not doing so, he had missed a great opportunity to impart his fatherly wisdom and guidance.

As a parent, I think of that essay all the time and remind myself to do “right” by my daughter and instill a strong value system, one of empathy, kindness, and respect for others.  Thank you, Mr. Josephson. Your contributions will never be forgotten by this mom.
Ann Doty-Mitchell
I am a faux Mom. My faux daughter has been in my life since she was two, as an almost stepdaughter. Although her dad and I parted years ago, she remains, now 17, a big part of my life. She currently lives with my husband and me, as her guardians.

Without going into detail, you can imagine the difficulties she has endured simply by considering the situation described.

Fortunately, I have been following Character Counts! for the past 10 years and am guided by Michael Josephson’s commentaries, both in terms of my own behavior and as a guide on how to raise my daughter. Most recently, by the “Items that didn’t make the top 10” pieces of advice that he gave to his daughter as she left for college. I can’t tell you how many Character Counts commentaries I have either forwarded or printed because they are so pertinent to my life.

Mr. Josephson has somehow tapped into my brain because his words often speak directly to my concerns of the moment. He has instructed me on weighty dilemmas, such as “Is it OK to lie about my address so that my child may attend a better school?” (I didn’t) and on lighter subjects like “returning the shopping cart” (I always have). I am both proud (my personal ethics are often confirmed) and sometimes humbled  (I hadn’t thought of that one), yet always entertained.

Most importantly, Michael Josephson shines a beacon we may all follow, by reminding us that Character Counts!

John Morris

I can’t recall exactly when I started listening to Michael’s commentaries on KNX, but once I did, I was hooked, and was sure to leave my home for work in time to catch his daily message on my morning commute. Eventually, my work schedule and commute routine changed, so I located the commentaries online, and was later able to receive them via e-mail. The online and e-mail versions gave two distinct advantages. First, I was able to copy and paste favorite commentaries to a document that is now 270 pages in length, starting with #229.1, the story of Timmy and the Noble Side of Human Nature. It includes 40 pages of quotes (the 2nd advantage), gems also copied from the weekly e-mails. I particularly liked any quotes regarding service and success through significance.

A few years ago, my youngest son went on a youth retreat. Parents were asked to write notes for their children to read at the retreat to encourage them during the weekend event. In addition to my personal note, I included 20 pages of Michael’s commentaries that related to parenthood and dealing with teens. He told me after he returned home that he was reading his “letter” long after the other teens had finished theirs, and he told me he read every page.

Michael, thank you for the gift of your wisdom. Have your commentaries had a positive impact on my life? I will answer with an emphatic “YES!!” You will be missed.

Raymond Pelka

Many years ago, after 23 years of marriage and two beautiful daughters (10 and 12 yrs old at the time), I had gone through a terrible divorce.  My first Father’s Day following the divorce, I sat in my little apartment waiting for my girls to call and ask me out, or let me take them out, or just to say, “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy,” but nothing.  I was soo depressed and felt like such a failure that I began sobbing at what my life had become.  I had always tried to do my very best with my girls and knew it was because of the bitterness over the divorce that they didn’t call and couldn’t help blaming myself.

I decided to go for a drive to take my mind off of things and I flipped on the radio.  KNX was on and before I could change the station God sent me you.  Tears still rolling down my face you did your piece, “Our Memories are the Blessings of Fatherhood”.  By the time you finished with your famous “This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts,” the tears were gone.  I felt a tremendous sadness lifted from me as it seemed so personal, as though you had written it just for me!  The rest of my drive, all I could think about were all the good times we had shared together.  Needless to say, you really touched my heart and I have been following you ever since.  Thank you Michael!

As a side note, my girls have grown, graduated college and moved on.  One lives in New York and the other is currently teaching in Spain.  Although I miss them terribly, we enjoy a wonderful relationship and we call, text, email or Skype each other almost daily.  Character really does count!

Maria Ventura
A dear friend introduced me to Michael Josephson’s website in 2002, a time when I was emotionally lost. I was recently divorced, dissatisfied with work, and not a fan of myself or much else.  I was raised by beautiful parents, and within a safe environment. However, I lost my way after being in a dysfunctional marriage and unhealthy workplaces. I admit that I took part in the dysfunction as well.

It was over a casual lunch, while I was complaining about my lot in life, that my friend mentioned Josephson’s “Six Pillars of Character.” I admire my friend’s sage-like wisdom so much that I visited the Six Pillars website and printed the pages that very day.  Those pages remained on my nightstand for years. And I often referred to them. The “Pillars,” were the tools I needed to look deeply within myself and others, so that I would make better decisions, and choose inspirational friends and companions.

What was so helpful was not only the Pillars, i.e., trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship, but also, more specifically, the definitions of these character traits.  Seemingly easy notions, right?  Not exactly — to me, those words were very difficult to define and exemplify.  Josephson’s relevant, simple, and direct illustrations helped in my understanding and their application.

I am truly saddened to hear of Josephson’s departure from radio, and trust that this end will lead to a new beginning where he will reach a wider and more receptive audience. Thank you.


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