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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Comments 4

  1. Agree 100%. Years ago, I bought tickets to a children’s show, and paid $100.00 cash for the tickets. The salesperson gave me my change back, which was supposed to be $10.00. Without looking I put the money in my purse. The next day when I cleaned out my purse I saw the same $100.00 bill that I had given the salesman. He had in fact given me the entire amount back! He had made a mistake and not charged me for the tickets! My initial reaction was of joy at receiving the tickets for free. Then I started thinking about what the salesman may have gone through when he was a $100.00 short, then my conscience bothered me……this is not what I wanted to teach my children and I did not want to take them to a show on cheated tickets. So I called the store where I had purchased the tickets and explained what happened and told them I would bring the money back in to the store when I was next there. The store manager’s reaction was one of disbelief! A few days later I went back and returned the money. The pleasure I got from this act knowing that I could now sleep peacefully at night, was huge. That feeling has lasted all this time, and I got greater pleasure in the lesson I taught my children. So yes, the feeling I got when I did the moral thing was very fulfilling, as compared to the short lived feeling of joy I got in “saving” $90.00 at someone else’s expense.

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