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Good character still counts

A conversation with a political candidate of my acquaintance nearly 25 years ago has rolled through my mind frequently in recent months. The candidate told me about a discussion he had with a student when speaking to a high school class a few days earlier.

He said he and the class were discussing the issue of character and one of the students argued that a candidate’s character should not be an issue in an election. What matters, the student maintained, is how a politician performs; how well he or she does the job.

One of the benefits of age is having had the opportunity to see firsthand how life really works. Over the years I’ve had the joy of dealing with men and women with character and the misery of dealing with men and women without character.

If I had had an opportunity to visit with the student who didn’t feel character was important I would have pointed out just how important character is, and not just for politicians. I would have told him that his assessment may seem plausible in some abstract theory, but when it comes to living in the real world, character — one’s moral or ethical strength — is everything.

Think about it.

We all want our employer to be a man or woman or good character. Many of us have worked at one time for someone without character — unfulfilled promises, impossible assignments, esteem-crushing criticism, fired without cause. I’ll take a boss of good character any day!

We all want good character in a dealer when we buy a car. Anyone can unsuspectingly buy a lemon; it’s the character of the dealer that makes the difference in just how sour that lemon is. In the late 1980s my wife and I bought a vehicle which turned out to be a lemon. A sour lemon. Fortunately, the dealer was a man of good character who ultimately made us a fair trade for a good vehicle. One key to successful business transactions is dealing with men and women of good character.

Character is important when we work with an investment counselor to help plan our retirement. I have friends who were bilked out of thousands of retirement dollars they invested with Russell Wassendorf, Sr., of Waterloo and his Peregrine Financial Group. Eight-years ago Wassendorf was sentenced to a 50-year prison term for looting hundreds of millions of dollars from tens of thousands of investors. And don’t forget Bernie Madoff. Character counts.

Good character is important in neighbors, too. Even minor things like a broken fence, a barking dog or a tree limb hanging over a property line can be monumental problems if you’re dealing with a neighbor without character.

When you are seriously ill character counts. You want your doctor to be a man or woman of character — someone who considers the patient’s recovery more important than a policy or his or her own bank account.

Character counts when you are hit by one of Dan Cupid’s arrows. Good character is essential in a happy, loving, long-term relationship. It hurts to get stung by someone without character in a business deal, but lack of character in a personal relationship can be devastating. There are many broken hearts out there who will tell you this is true!

I respect differences of opinion but I would have told the young man who thought character doesn’t count he’s wrong. Dead wrong. In a day of relativism, I may appear old fashioned but decades of experience have taught me that character is critically important, regardless of age, gender, occupation, social position or the era in which we live.

In the fifth century B.C., Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “A man’s character is his fate.” Five centuries earlier, wise King Solomon reminded us of the long-term implications of character. “We all have happy memories of good men gone to their reward,” Solomon wrote, “but the names of wicked men stink after them.”

Pauper or prince, plumber or politician, good character has always been important and always will be.

Character counts.

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