COMMENTARY 795.3: The Self-Portrait Called Character

While I was on a radio call-in show talking about cheating, a listener I’ll call Stan mocked my concern. He cheated to get into college, he said. He cheated in college to get a job. And now he occasionally cheats on his job to get ahead. In fact, he concluded, cheating is such an important life skill that parents ought to teach their kids how to cheat.

Evidence is mounting that lots of people share Stan’s amoral pragmatism. Because they define success and happiness in terms of getting what they want when they want it, ethics seems irrational. After all, in a world where cheaters so often prosper, why should anyone give up the benefits of dishonesty?

Well, for one thing, the Stans of the world have no idea the price they’re paying for the little they’re getting. A life without principles is demeaning and self-defeating. The Stans of the world are cheated as often as they cheat others. What’s more, they cheat themselves. As they scrape and struggle to fill their lives, they give up their chance to lead fulfilling lives.

The happiest people I know are those who find purpose and meaning pursuing a grander vision of a good life measured in terms of worthiness, not net worth. Virtue is not a tactic; it’s a life philosophy.

We paint the self-portrait that we call our character by our values and actions. We can choose to paint that portrait in the pale watercolors of shallow successes and short-lived pleasures or in the deep, rich oils of honor, spirituality, peace of mind, and self-respect.

The enduring impact of our choices is not what we get, but what we become.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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