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The importance of good character

Command Chief Master Sergeant, 315th Airlift Wing

Command Chief Master Sergeant, 315th Airlift Wing

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Someone once said that people of genius are admired, people of wealth are envied, people of power are feared, but only people of “character” are trusted. Without character…you cannot be trusted, and if you be cannot be trusted…you cannot lead. 

The word character comes from the Greek, meaning "to make a mark." Your character is your mark on the world. Character can be defined as the sum of one’s characteristics. Whereas, strength of character, is to have strong characteristics that are of value to others and to one’s self. Said another way, the ethical values we all strive to represent are characteristics, while strength of character is the extent to which you execute your values.

Character is important, not only in the military, but life in general. Need proof? How many of us have turned on the evening news and watched people of high importance resign, leave office in disgrace, or go to jail because of what—character flaws.

In today’s culture, mainstream media puts an extreme strain on those with strength of character. Perhaps because we are so influenced by what we see on TV… that exposed long enough, it gradually becomes accepted as the norm. Perhaps many of you, like myself (yes, I’m guilty too) watch way too much reality TV shows. Not surprisingly, these reality shows are consistently ranked as some of the more popular shows on TV today. It’s not that these shows are necessarily bad, but their “sphere of influence” might be. Many young impressionable people may view it and believe that in order to get ahead in today’s world…you must lie, cheat, or steal your way to the top. Don’t be tempted to do so! Remember the Honor Code at the U.S. Air Force Academy which reads, “I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate any among us that do.” The purpose of the Honor Code is to foster an environment based upon a personal sense of honesty and integrity which will remain with you throughout your life. Thus, don’t hang around or even be associated with those that do because of their bad influence and because of the perceived guilt by association. 

One of the best quotes on character comes from Frank Outlaw, who once said, 

Watch your thoughts: They become your words.
Watch your words: They become your actions.
Watch your actions: They become your habits.
Watch your habits: They become your character.
Watch your character: It becomes your destiny.

The first step in developing high character is being able to acknowledge your shortcomings. Once you're aware of them, you can begin the process of changing them. Character defines who we are. So when we judge someone else, we often judge them based on character. For example, when someone always seems to do the right thing, we classify him/her as a person of high ethical standards. Likewise, when someone is constantly negative, we consider him/her to have a pessimistic view. These judgments occur in an instant, and whether they are right or wrong, they influence how we feel about a person. If we are so quick to judge others based on character, then why do so many of us fail to judge ourselves based on character? Many of us judge ourselves based on our accomplishments, yet fail to question our integrity and honesty in achieving these accomplishments. 

Instead of being so quick to judge others, take a look in the mirror and judge yourself. Perhaps you will see something you weren't expecting. You may realize it's time to make a few changes.

There's a poem written by Dale Wimbrow which sums up the importance of character. 

When you get all you want and you struggle for wealth,
and the world makes you king for a day,
then go to the mirror and look at yourself
and see what that man has to say.
For it isn't your mother, your father or wife
whose judgment upon you must pass,
but the man, whose verdict counts most in your life
is the one staring back from the glass.
He's the fellow to please, never mind all the rest.
For he's with you right to the end,
and you've passed your most difficult test
if the man in the glass is your friend. 

You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
but the man in the glass says you're only a bum, if you can't look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world, down the highway of years,
and take pats on the back as you pass.
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
if you've cheated the man in the glass." 

In closing, no matter who you are today, understand that tomorrow doesn't have to be like yesterday. Don't let your past dictate your present and your future. Make the choice today to develop your character, if you haven’t already.