Thoughts on a Character Deficit in Today’s World

A good friend of mine, Michael Ross, who wrote “Overcoming the Character Deficit—How to Restore America’s Greatness One Decision at a Time,” said it best when he asked, “What happens when we lose sight of the impact of our choices?” Everything we do in our lives has consequences, and the earlier we understand that, the better off we are. How many times have we regretted what we said, or more importantly, what we did?

Michael says in his book “that the word character is a deviation of the Greek word charakter which literally means the “stamp of a coin.” American coins feature great men like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. Their characters helped shape and set a high standard for our nation. The penny says honest, perseverant, and humble. The nickel says creative, diplomatic, and competent. The dime says resolve, relationships, and patience. The quarter says courage, fortitude, and honor.” I say, isn’t this the way we all want to be described? Isn’t this the legacy with which we would all like to live? People today don’t think of their characters as being honest and humble or creative, diplomatic and competent, or full of courage, honor, and fortitude. But what if they did? Would this world not be a much better place to live if they did? I am sure the Greatest Generation (described by Tom Brokaw in his writings) would all agree that those words are very important, but somewhat lost in 2015. If they are less important today, why is that, and how powerful might they be if we embraced them? Would we not have fine moral character?

I mention in my first book (The Dysfunctional Organization), the vacuum of leadership in the world today. I mentioned a story about a time I was driving through South Africa with a good friend, who is a South African of British descent, and we were talking of statesmen. The question came up, are there any great statesmen or women in the world today? Of course, being in South Africa, my friend mentioned Nelson Mandela. Now Mandela has a checkered past, especially if you talk to the white population of South Africa. But in my humble opinion, here is what is amazing about Mandela. When F.W. DeKlerk gave up power to Mandela’s party, everyone expected the worst. Everyone expected that power in the hands of Mandela would mean the demise of the nation. Give Nelson Mandela some admiration for realizing he needed white South Africa to help transform black South Africa, and that they had to work together with the minority who had been in power for years—many times oppressively—to make South Africa a great nation. His personal greed or vindictiveness for spending the best years of his life in Robben Island Prison was seldom apparent. This wise gentleman realized that in order to set up a successful future, he had to deal with the past, he had to allow a reasonable transition and that it was better for South Africa if he did. See, statesmen do what is right for their country, not necessarily what is right for them, either socially or politically. In that case, Mandela was a true statesman.

Who might be the others over the past fifty to one hundred years? Maybe Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair? You can certainly throw in Roosevelt and Winston Churchill into that discussion. Much has been written over the past few years of Roosevelt’s slyness and his moxie, and at the same time his valued relationship with Churchill. FDR knew it would be political suicide to support the UK early on in the war, but Churchill was a friend and a staunch ally. They had a pact that when Churchill needed help the most, FDR would pull the string, and that is exactly what happened—and the world was saved from a tyrannical leader, be it Hitler, Stalin or someone else. As they say, the rest is history.

Now, we are not great men or women like these folks, but what will be our legacy? How will we contribute to the world—in albeit a smaller way—but still making this world a better place to live? It is through our character. It is doing the right thing at the right time in the best interest of the most people. It is letting go of the natural tendencies to hold spite, be vindictive, and pay back someone who has done us wrong. It is character that defines who we are.

Michael Ross argues that there is a character deficit in our nation today, and I can’t argue with that. How did we lose our way, and what do we do to fix it? He will tell you that there are serious flaws within our political structure, the way we do business today, our health, our finances, our educational structure, our religious organizations, arts and entertainment, as well as our basic family structure. Now I would find any number of people agreeing with him, but the fact of the matter remains, how do we fix what has already been damaged? Michael will tell us “that each of us is not as important as all of us,” and that we need to take a stand “to bring character back into our lives,” and I agree wholeheartedly with him. The character deficit and understanding of what makes something deficient helps us to remedy it today when you decide to take action and fix it. It is really all about the action we take when we look at character from a mature perspective. It shows us what we need to do to build a strong nations, strong families, and strong relationships, and be effective once again.