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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

Boxer James Braddock. Photo credit: SDN-069543, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

When a person spurns his conscience and fails to do what he knows is right, he subtracts from his char- acter. When he evades his responsibilities, succumbs to temptation, foists his problems and burdens on oth- ers, or fails to exert self-discipline, he subtracts from his character. When he is so self-absorbed he ceases to be of service to others unless there’s something in it for him, he subtracts from his character. When he attempts to reform the world without reforming him- self first, he subtracts from his character.

As I’ve written elsewhere, a person’s character is nothing more and nothing less than the sum of his choices. You can’t choose your height or race or many other physical traits, but you fine tune your character every time you decide right from wrong and what you personally are going to do about it. Your character is further defined by how you choose to interact with others and the stan- dards of speech and conduct you practice. Char- acter is often listed as a key leadership quality. I actually think character and leadership are one and the same. If you’ve got character, others will look upon you as a leader.

Ravaged by conflict and corruption, the world is starving for people of character. Indeed, as much as anything, it is on this matter that the fate of indi- vidual liberty has always depended. A free society flourishes when people seek to be models of honor, honesty and propriety at whatever the cost in mate- rial wealth, social status or popularity. It descends into barbarism when they abandon what’s right in

favor of self-gratification at the expense of others; when lying, cheating or stealing are winked at in- stead of shunned. If you want to be free, if you want to live in a free society, you must assign top priority to raising the caliber of your character and learning from those who already have it in spades. If you do not govern yourself, you will be governed.

Character means that there are no matters too small to handle the right way. Former football star and Congressman J.C. Watts once said that your character is defined by what you do when no one is looking. Cutting corners because “it won’t mat- ter much” or “no one will notice” still knocks your character down a notch and can easily become a slippery slope. “Unless you are faithful in small matters,” we learn in Luke 16:10, “you will not be faithful in large ones.”

Here’s an example of exemplary character from a recent movie, Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man.” e film is a masterpiece from start to finish but I es- pecially loved an early scene in which boxer James Braddock (played by Russell Crowe) learns that his young son has stolen a sausage. e family is hungry and destitute at the bottom of the Great Depres- sion. e boy was fearful that, like one of his friends whose parents couldn’t provide enough to eat, he would be sent to live with relatives who could afford the expense. Braddock does not hesitate on the mat- ter for a second. He immediately escorts the boy to the store to return the sausage and apologize to the butcher. He then lectures his son:

Mackinac Center for Public Policy


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