Opinion: Let's reprioritize character in work, culture

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Editor’s note: This column is Part I in a three-part series on character development in culture and the workplace.

As a business owner, imagine being asked to supply 30 character references for an upcoming major project. The references should be categorized this way: 10 friends or family members, 10 employees and 10 business associates.

If they were then allowed to be absolutely truthful with no consequences, how would they describe your character?

That is something to really think about. I have noticed in today’s culture that character isn’t looked upon with as high esteem as it used to be.

When a man gave you his word or shook hands on a business agreement, it was understood that his word was good.

Before I go any further, any time I speak about character, I want to make sure that people realize that I am in no way perfect. This is not a “holier than thou” article. Everyone has character; some traits are good and some are bad. We should strive to make character a priority again in today’s culture. Words like honor, integrity, respect, loyalty, courage and perseverance should be foundational to each individual person’s character as a whole.

We are well familiar with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

How can we expect our young people who will someday be future business and community leaders to have character when today’s society lacks the conviction to hold themselves accountable for their actions?

You can pick any number of careers: politicians, doctors, business owners, teachers, coaches and community leaders, who have displayed both great character and lack of character. One of my favorite examples of character is George Washington. One of the things that I’ve always admired about him is that he took his character and reputation very seriously. So much so that he wrote out 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”

Here’s an example of what I’m describing. What comes to mind when you hear these two names: George Washington and Benedict Arnold? One is a Founding Father of our country, and the other is a traitor who died with no country.

Whenever I do public speaking, especially at a school assembly, I want to emphasize the importance of character development to young people now.

Before we ask our younger generation to do this, we must display and set examples of character in our own lives. It first starts with me, an individual, then as a parent teaching our children, which will strengthen the family. This also should be part of our education system starting from middle school to high school and even colleges. Finally, it ends with you, our community leaders.As you read this, you may roll your eyes, sigh, and think that what I am saying is a waste of time. But look no further than some key words in today’s news headlines: embezzlement, fraud, scandal, blackmail, murder, etc.

I get encouragement to improve my character from C.H. Spurgeon, a Baptist preacher from England during the mid-1800s. He said, “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when flowers have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”

This is a personal goal of mine. I want to be a difference maker and have a positive impact in other people’s lives. Striving to embrace character as an essential part of your core is a start. I challenge you and myself to make this happen.

Jeff Collins is a motivational speaker and founder of the Missouri Winter Games and co-founder of Champions Committed to Kids. He can be reached at
 jeff@mowintergames.org.