Character-Building is Overrated

A personal note: Many folks who know me understand my personal code of ethics, which I’ve been living by since I was a kid. A few people know what I’ve been going through recently, and have seen my ability to overcome challenges tested. Some people hit this site with some sense of casual fascination – who is this person, what’s he like?

Let me be absolutely clear: I know what I have and have not done in my life (because I was there when it happened).  There is no person, no group, nobody who can say with certainly that they know what kind of person I am better than me.  And I can say without hesitation that I have stuck to my strict code of ethics my entire adult life.  Not only that, but I have committed myself to “doing the right thing” far more than most people.

Anyone can judge others – we do it every day.  We look at a poorly dressed person in Wal-Mart and instantly think we know they they are about.  We see news stories and think we know the truth about the facts – it’s on the news, so it must be correct, right?  Wrong.  Not everything you see, or read, or hear is even remotely correct.  Just because someone is in a position to blare something from the rooftops, doesn’t mean they are any better at drawing conclusions, predicting the future, or explaining reality any better than you.

Actions speak far louder than words.  Example: deciding “I’m going to devote months of my life to raise money for people who don’t even know who I am” is a far braver act than offering up an opinion or judgment about somebody.  That’s transitory – just vapor.  What’s real is the results of your actions – who truly benefits from what you do?  You or others?

The picture above is the “check presentation” from one of the years I led the Riverfest Music Festival, a small charity fundraiser I founded to raise money for Atlanta charities.  This was not a trivial task – it required teams of volunteers, and was pulled off annually to raise tens of thousands of dollars for people who we would never meet or know.  But it was needed, and someone had to do it, and I decided one day that it would be me.

So what am I trying to convey in this article?  It’s not easy being generous or ethical.  What’s harder is enduring life’s challenges (whether you deserve them or not), and staying just as selfless as before.  An old saying goes something like “suffering builds character” – but some of us have built enough of it, thanks.  Before you go off knowing everything about a person, just know that you don’t, and should keep an open mind about others.  The world would be far nicer if we all did.