Th e S to r y o f N i c h o l a s Wi n to n a n d Th e I m p o r t a n ce o f C h a ra c te r
Photo credit: Lawrence W. Reed
Dr. Haing S. Ngor (who won an Academy Award for his role in the movie “e Killing Fields”). In advance of the trip, there was considerable local press attention because I was rustling up donated medical supplies to take with me to give to a hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh. A woman from a local church who saw the news stories called and explained that a few years before, her church had helped Cambodian families who had escaped from the Khmer Rouge communists and resettled in my town of Midland, Michigan. e families had moved on to other locations in the U.S. but stayed in touch with the woman who called me and other friends they had made in Midland.
e woman — Sharon Hartlein is her name
said she had told her Cambodian friends about
my pending visit. Each family asked if I would take letters with cash enclosed to their relatives in Cam- bodia. I said yes.
ree of the families were in Phnom Penh and easy
to find, but one was many miles away in Battambang. Going there would have involved a train ride, some personal risk, and a lot of time it turned out I didn’t have. I was advised in any event not to return with any money. If I couldn’t locate any of the families I was told to just give the cash to any needy Cambodian I could find (and they were everywhere!).
On the day before my return home, when I real- ized I just wasn’t going to make it to Battambang, I approached a man in tattered clothes whom I had seen several times in the hotel lobby. He always smiled and said hello, and spoke enough English so
that we could briefly converse. He, like most Cam- bodians at that time, was extremely poor. I told him I had an envelope with a letter and $200 in it, intended for a family in Battambang. I asked him if he thought he could get it to them and I told him he could keep $50 of it if he did. He consented, and we said good- bye. I assumed I would never hear anything of what had become of either him or the money.
Several months later, I received an excited call from Sharon. She said she had just received a letter from the Cambodians in Virginia whose family in Battambang that envelope was intended for. When she read it on the phone, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. e letter read, “ank you for the two hundred dollars!”
at poor man found his way to Battambang, and
he not only didn’t keep the $50 I said he could keep, he somehow found a way to pay for the $10 train ride himself. Now, that is character! I think I would prob- ably trust my life in his hands, even though I never got to know him and didn’t ask him for his address.
To help us understand what character is, let me tell you what the absence of it looks like. Sadly, evidence of a lack of character is in abundance these days.
In 1995, students on the quiz team at Steinmetz High School in Chicago made national news when it was discovered that they had cheated to win a state- wide academic contest. With the collaboration of their teacher, they had worked from a stolen copy of a test to look up and memorize the correct answers in advance. Perhaps worse than the initial deed was the
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