Good Character Trumps Reputation Every Time

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Reputation is who people think you are and character is who you really are. A reputation can be crafted but character is intrinsic to your nature. I think most people know me by reputation and only a very few know my true character. I am most upset with myself when I catch myself in a hypocrisy—betraying my core values (my character).

People of stout character can have their reputations sullied but true character can survive a tarnished reputation. We can’t always control our reputations but we can always choose to be true to our character—a man without good character is no man at all. And he will know that even if others don’t. Is character a product of nature or nurture?

Good character is the single most important human trait among many traits and courage, honesty, compassion, loyalty and wisdom are all important aspects of good character. It’s easier to do the right thing when the task at hand is nonthreatening (or convenient) or when others are watching. But when we’re alone with our decision, beyond the prying eyes of others, or faced with significant personal risk the decision to do the right thing can become more difficult. There can be a temptation to waver.

Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. An observation that a person’s sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases. The statement was made by Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It’s important that we get the measure of a man before allowing him to assume a position of authority over us (here I am using the word man in the increasingly anachronistic sense: meaning both men and women collectively). As hard as it is we should always strive to hire and promote men of good character—especially where public trust is involved. Impossible?

Hard but not impossible—character matters. Keen observation is key: Actions speak louder than words (Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865) or A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds (Saint Basil the Great 330-379). History is a good predictor of the future: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (George Santayana 1863-1952). To divine a man’s character observe his past actions and deeds, they are good predictors of his future actions and deeds. We should seek out the best of us to govern the least of us: government officials, religious leaders, law enforcement and educators et al.—don’t settle.

Field Notes: My country is being tested and its institutions, leaders and culture are all under attack. Our democracy has been tested before (the American Civil War, the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War peace movements) and it survived. This is a time for all of us to revisit our values (our individual and national character): what do we stand for and are we willing to fight for it? There is great division among us sowing seeds of doubt, fear and discontent—what will we harvest from those seeds? Weeds or roses? Character is important. We need leaders of character: courage, honesty, compassion, loyalty and wisdom. SFD

4 responses to “Good Character Trumps Reputation Every Time

  1. Pingback: Good Character Trumps Reputation Every Time — Expat Journal: Postcards from the Edge – Through My Viewfinder

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