Character is more than ethics because it largely determines the effect one has on one’s self. Like the old saying, “Reputation is what others think you are… but character is what you know you are.” Character is the true basis of genuine self-respect.
Natural desires of selfish indulgence are allowed to abridge the disciplines of character. Our future depends on the residue of individual responsibility. The question remains whether character can be built faster than the deterioration.
Two areas of growth exist:
1) The general recognition that character strength is a pragmatic need for the orderly conduct of civilized life. Just as we continue to use the ancient mathematical principles even with new techniques because they work, character continues to work. Our American style of life demands the underpinning of character.
But no doubt this recognition must come from our leadership.
2) A Christian revival that would create a personal, spiritual vitality that keeps morality and legality from merging into one. Personal morality must always exceed legality for meaningful freedom to exist.
There is a danger that those enjoying the pleasures of the lessening character values “sin for a season is very pleasant” will expect others to supply the morality and values necessary to perpetuate America while they take an irresponsible, morality-free ride. There have always been these character free-loaders – these weak cells in the honeycomb of our society. Too great a concentration of weak cells will collapse the good ones.
If too many adults demand others to carry the moral load, letting personal character deteriorate, the scene is set for a strong dictator rather than a popularly elected leader. Democracy depends on the strong individual capable of self-direction in a time where personal irresponsibility rules.
Character is the residence of those values which determine our ability to be free and self-policing. The man who doesn’t self-discipline demands external discipline. I remember meeting a businessman in Buenos Aires who asked, “Mr. Smith, when will the States have a dictator?” His next words surprised me. “The States must have a dictator- you have lost control of your freedom, and it will require a dictator to establish order.”
I pray this will never happen.
--Fred Smith, 1977