Our “Character” is the main currency we carry for successful navigation in the universe … with underscored attributes of trustworthiness, accountability, and all the rest.
Recent events lead one to wonder how much our “Character” is hard-wired and how much of it is malleable … and with how much effort?
The recent flare-ups over past racially-charged behavior and sexual harassment alleged against politicians in Virginia graphically underscored the question:
Can one ever amend one’s ways
to a point of becoming not just a “better person”,
but a dedicated crusader for a more just and morally-driven future?
The conjecture has surfaced multiple times recently, perhaps even more glaringly with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Whether he did or didn’t do what he was alleged to have done 35 years ago in college, shouldn’t one’s past immature indiscretions be left in the past, particularly when one has gone on to accumulate a solid public record of otherwise estimable behavior? Is there no “sobering up” redemption – no “second chance”? Can one not learn from one’s mistakes? Can a “pattern of behavior” not be changed? Or, like a zebra, is one stuck with one’s “stripes” for the duration?
[An aside: It’s also interesting to consider the question of how differently Justice Kavanaugh might have felt about the issue of abortion – the ostensible primary basis on which he was presumptively nominated – had his immature behavior … or that of conspicuous others in his circle … resulted in the pregnancy of one of his college compatriots … !]
The case of Harvey Weinstein is more problematic: Evidence suggests he was unable to change his behavior … or perhaps unwilling, driven by power, privilege and presumptive entitlements, making the boundaries irrelevant?
And what of Bill Cosby … or Garrison Keillor … or …?
Never mind the challenges going forward from all that was left behind, what about the large “body of work” each contributed before, during and/or after egregious – even “unforgiveable – incidents? Does it wipe out brilliance? I have books by both Cosby and Keillor that I have, heretofore, considered valuable reference resources and am wondering if I now have to move on to other “more reputable” sources?
What about those who have not yet been “caught”? How many of the legislators who participated in the Kavanaugh hearings had skeletons in their own closets?
And what about the timely increased interest in the rehabilitation of criminal offenders? Here’s an entry from recent news:
“Dena Williams, 33, has asked a Scott Circuit Court judge to grant probation for the remainder of her 20-year sentence. She pleaded guilty in November 2005 for her role in the death of Ashley Lyons. Lyons, 18, … was more than five months pregnant when she was found shot to death …Roger McBeath Jr., the ex-boyfriend of Lyons, is serving a 42-year sentence for complicity to murder Lyons.
… In the written motion, Williams says she “was very young and easily persuaded by” McBeath … Furthermore, Williams said she “was not the main offender of the crime and has already served approximately 70 percent of her sentence for her role in the crime.”
So, the fundamental question is: How much – for the better – can each of us change as we grow and develop and mature in attempting to make our way in the world … and does that even count for anything? And, if we DO change, is it just for “political correctness” or due to more intrinsic re-direction? Perhaps one life-altering dose of shame is more than enough, but only then? Legislation to return voting rights to convicted felons after they’ve “done their time” is also relevant here.
If we’ve learned anything at all from human behavior, it is that INTEGRITY – the core element of Character – is the last bastion of sanity. When integrity is breached, very little of purpose or meaning in life remains. [It is, no doubt, for this reason that some criminals resolutely cling to the myth of innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence against them.]
“Character” is defined by the way we behave when nobody is looking. It is the ability to hold ourselves accountable to the highest standard without external intervention. It is the ability to admit “I screwed up!”, take the heat and redirect ourselves. Character is refined by the fire of shame and hammered out on the combined anvils of Truth, Justice and Moral Imperative.
Finally, “Character” is not “conditional”, “situational” or “circumstantial” … and is rarely “convenient”. The revelation that Winston Churchill was a proponent of racial hierarchies is not excused by assertions by his heirs that “he was merely a product of his time”. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29701767
So let’s take an unbiased look at our own Character Profile. What are our personal “fault lines”? Do we have any “Fatal Flaws”? An “Achilles Heel”? Any “zebra stripes”? And what are the extant holdings that may mark us as “mere products of our time”?
And let’s be circumspect about “Political Correctness”. Doing what is “Politically Correct” may be seen by some as “selling out”, or as “white washing”. But, if something is RIGHT “for good reason”, it’s not just “Politically Correct”, it’s simply RIGHT – period!
Nobody can claim a noble Character Profile is easily acquired. The most noble among us have made incredible sacrifices, and many have felt the searing heat of a refining fire and the blunt force of being hammered out on an anvil. The most fortunate have learned from OTHERS’ mistakes. Let’s stop acting like Neanderthals, whose heritage we carry, change as many “stripes” as we can, “Man UP” to the most noble “Calling” we can muster, and act accordingly. Quartermaster
Quote of the Week
“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.” Mark Twain