Sunday, March 26, 2023

The ingredients of good character

| March 12, 2023 1:00 AM

An Irish missionary once described how character is formed:

"Consider the walnut: If you compare a walnut with some of the beautiful and exciting things that grow on our planet, it does not seem to be a marvelous creation. It is common, rough, not particularly attractive and certainly not valuable in any monetary sense. Besides, it is small. Its growth is limited by the hard shell that surrounds it. The shell from which it never escapes during its lifetime.

"Of course, that's the wrong way to judge a walnut. Break one open and look inside. See how the walnut has grown to fill every nook and cranny available to it? It had no say in the size or shape of that shell, but given those limitations, it achieved its full potential of growth."

How lucky we will be if, like the walnut, we find ways to blossom and bloom in every crevice of the life that is given us.

Character is not an inheritance; each person must build it on their own. Character is comprised of many positive traits, as well as moral principles such as caring, cooperation, diligence, fairness, honesty, loyalty, patience, positivity, responsibility, reliability and unselfishness, to name a few.

Character lies in how you conduct yourself as a person and demonstrate empathy and compassion. You must also be accountable, give credit where it is due, forgive others, apologize when you are wrong and always strive to be helpful.

Let's look at just a few other hallmarks of good character:

Dependability — You are there to support others and keep your promises. People can trust you to listen attentively and make rational decisions, while taking responsibility for your actions.

Kindness — Kind words and kind actions start with kind thoughts. In a hyper-competitive world, we might be tempted to take a dramatically different approach. But that tactic doesn't produce any winners. Funny thing about kindness: The more it's used, the more you have of it.

Respectfulness — I learned long ago to be respectful or be regretful. There are four very important words in life: love, honesty, truth and respect. Without these in your life you have nothing.

Courage — It's easy to be ordinary. Courage is what sets you apart from the crowd. Courage is one of the major human virtues. Courage is bravery, valor, standing up to danger, guts and nerve all rolled into one. I'm not a soldier, a policeman, a doctor or a relief worker. I'm a businessman. So what does courage have to do with running a business? Plenty. I admit that most folks' daily lives are not filled with such dramatic challenges. We all face situations that require us to reach deep down within ourselves to do what is right and brave and occasionally difficult. Courage can involve making decisions that are unpopular, time-consuming or even expensive.

Integrity — Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do. We have an epidemic of blaming others for mistakes, or worse, attempting a cover-up, rather than taking responsibility and swallowing a few bitter pills. We need to teach kids that their actions have consequences, and then apply those consequences. And we need to be prepared to forgive those who are truly sorry for their behavior, and not just because they got caught.

As I have said so many times before: If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden said: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

I like to say that reputation is precious, but character is priceless. Reputation is for time; character is for eternity.

Mackay's Moral: Good character is like good soup — it is usually homemade.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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