Character is Everything

It seems that as a society we forget the most basic wisdom of our noble forbears whilst we deal with quotidian challenges, be they at work, at home, or in public. Character is everything. It is best defined not by what we have experienced but how we deal with the moments of difficulty before us, for it is indeed in times of conflict that character is best revealed.

Anyone can seem lovely when times are good. Anyone can hold aloft a wine glass while dressed in their evening best smelling of roses - but it is in the dark moments when few are looking at us that so many of us act in ways that we would never want anyone to know about. We scorn such ugly behavior publicly, though how do we act in private or among our conspirators? How do we deal with strangers and enemies, with those who hold opposing interests to ours, with those we don't like? Remember, even Hitler had friends and family who thought he was a swell guy! But of course history rightly judges him and those like him by how he dealt with those he hated.

As a multi-practice litigation attorney, I witness people of all walks of life dealing with conflict at its worst. Whether it is my own clients, opposing clients, other lawyers, witnesses, judges, police officers, or the politicians who make the laws that structure our world, sometimes I observe people acting at their worst. I see this in my own dealings in society as well, of course.

I cannot simply shake my head and shrug. It is this very existence of unethical and unjust behavior that has motivated my life's work to make a positive difference in my small corner of the world.

So I remind us all now to be mindful of virtuous behavior, to seek to exemplify it in our most challenging moments and consistently throughout our day. Intelligence, decency, honesty, kindness, and compassion; vision; integrity; compromise; peacefulness; helpfulness; flexibility and adaptability; openness; attentiveness; politeness; and forgiveness - these are excellent virtues that I wish I saw more of every day. I urge you to consider their worth in your own life.

Perhaps it seems far easier to act badly, to destroy. Consider that while it may take a person an entire day to create a beautiful sand castle at the beach, within seconds a negligent or malevolent person can kick it all down. Or as an ancient Persian saying goes, the village fool can throw a handful of foul dirt into the town's well, and all the wise people will be incapable of purifying the tainted drinking water.

There is plenty room enough for virtuous behavior in our competitive society. We can do business, we can deal with conflict, we can have families, we can socialize, we can live our lives - all with good character. Otherwise, what does it look like if we deal with conflicts small and large without decency and virtue? I think it is sadly too easy for us to know the answer to this question, for all we have to do is pay attention to what is happening each day all around us, too often by the work of our own hands.

It’s important to mediate on what we accomplish in our life’s work, what kind of company we work for, what its impact on the world really is, and also to think about how we spend our money, what companies and habits we support, and our impact on our communities and the planet. It’s important to think about how we treat people with whom we interact each day in small ways and large as we walk the streets, drive our cars, shop, talk on the phone, and so on.

As our world becomes more anonymous in the midst of the tech revolution and via population convergence in major cities, we encounter the lack of consequence for our actions, be they peccadilloes or worse. We become our own judges, and the burden of that should not be shrugged off lest we find ourselves creating a world of vice and chaos one bad act at a time.

There is so little we can control in this world. Let us control ourselves from falling prey to vices such as deceit, chicanery, stubbornness, denial, egotism, ruthlessness, hard-nosed behavior, violence, fearful secrecy, inconsideration, greed, and emotional irresponsibility. We're all stocked up on vice here. Let's put in a major order on some virtue, please.