Character really counts | Sunday Observer

Character really counts

4 April, 2021

I would rather be adorned by beauty of character than by jewels. Jewels are the gift of fortune while character comes from within. – Plautus

Character means the combination of qualities that makes someone a particular type of person. It also means a combination of qualities such as courage, loyalty and honesty that are admired and regarded as valuable. With that definition of character, let me move on to a real-life situation.

The chairman of a family-owned business organisation had a problem with employee morale. He found that his employees were not happy to work in his company although he had given them many perks in addition to the salary. Except a few employees, others did not want to stay with the company for a long time. Then he brought in a well-known behavioural psychologist and asked him to find the real cause of the employees’ discontent.

The psychologist was introduced to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who was a bright and charismatic young man who had risen through the ranks only to see his institution faltering. Productivity and profits were going down. The CEO blamed his employees. He told the psychologist that despite incentives they are not ready to shake off their gloom and doom.

The psychologist found that the working environment had been poisoned with suspicion and lack of trust. Then he held a couple of workshops to boost the morale of the employees. When the results were negative, he befriended a few employees to find out the real cause of discontent.

During his casual conversations with several employees the truth emerged. The CEO who was a married man with a child was having an illicit affair with a female employee. He always listened to her and took official decisions. It was clear that his conduct led to the company’s poor performance. But the greatest damage he was doing was to himself. He was thinking only of his own gratification, disregarding long-term consequences. Moreover, he had violated a sacred trust with his wife. In short, his failing was one of character.

Extra-marital affair

Today, having an extra-marital affair is very much in vogue. And it is out of vogue to speak in terms of character, but character is the most essential aspect of any person. It takes time to build up your character which is made up of principles and values that give you direction, meaning and depth. They constitute your inner sense of what is right and wrong based not on laws or rules of conduct but onwho you are.

At a time when ethics are no longer taught in schools, young people may not know the true value of honesty, integrity, courage, fairness and generosity. They arise from hard choices you have to make in the course of your life. What has happened today is that you think it is correct to do anything to please yourself. By placing a premium on self-gratification you ruin your career and marriage.

It has come to a point that many people wonder whether their inner values matter anymore. They say morals are meant for old people and they should enjoy life at any cost. They think that there is nothing wrong in committing an immoral act secretly. However, you might ask the moralist: “Aren’t there people who have succeeded in life despite their immoral acts?”


The question demonstrates a quandary of our modern life. Many people believe that in order to lead a successful life you need only talent, energy, wealth and personality. If you are a well-dressed young man travelling in an expensive car, you will fit this description. However, history has taught us that who we are is more important than who we appear to be.

Our success in life depends on what is called ‘Character Ethic’ rather than talent and academic qualifications. The foundation of human life still depends on integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, simplicity and modesty. Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is representative of such sterling qualities.

However, after World War I the basic view of success shifted from the ‘Character Ethic’to what we call the ’Personality Ethic.’ In other words, success became more a function of personality and of public image. People began to look up to your skills and techniques that lubricate the process of human interaction. Even Thomas Jefferson made it clear that we can only experience true success and happiness by making character the bedrock of our lives.

In the Industrial Age that dawned after World War I’ Character Ethic’ was replaced by the ‘Personality Ethic’. A crop of writers including Dale Carnegie wrote books on how to make friends and influence people. They never advised how to develop character. New superficial maxims such as “Smiling wins more friends than frowning” became popular. Some of the ideas made popular were manipulative or deceptive. For instance, you can fake interest in another’s hobby to win him over.


The new value system imposed on us forced us to develop our skills and personality by dressing ourselves well. Soon, a new crop of heroes emerged. In the past our heroes were great authors, musicians and world leaders. Today, they have been replaced by athletes, business leaders and actors. We should respect such people for their achievements, but they should not be our role models. This is because skills and striking personalities will never guarantee happiness and fulfillment. They come only from developing the ‘Character Ethic’.

Whether you are young or old, you can build your character. The key is to look within and to work inside out. Within this approach, private victories will precede public victories. Private victories are the promises you make to yourself and others and keep them.

They may not be big promises such as buying someone a BMW. Some promises you make may appear to be too simple to pay attention to. However, even a small promise is a promise. You have to keep it. This is perhaps the first stage of developing your character. When you make bigger promises and keep them, it is a deposit in your’Character account’; Finally, making promises and keeping them will become a habit.

When you do an honest job, you become a responsible employee. Any employer will keep such employees until they retire. Even in marriage, you can become an ideal husband or wife. It will generate mutual love, generosity and trust. Any trust has to be built over time in the infinite variety of circumstances. You can test your trustworthiness by a simple method. Can you be loyal to your husband or wife in their absence? If you have a secret love affair with someone, you are not loyal to your spouse. They are hard choices to make in the modern world, but it is worth the attempt.


The best opportunity to build up your character exists in your own family. That is a place where we are being tested constantly. If you tell lies to your parents, you will continue to do so in your adult life. With a lie you can get away from a difficult situation once, but you will not succeed thereafter. Telling lies will subvert your character. When others find out that you are a liar, you will not be entrusted with any responsible task.

Moral principles are like lighthouses. They are natural laws that cannot and should not be broken. As Cecil B. de Mille had observed referring to the principles contained in his monumental film The Ten Commandments, “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.”

If modern man has no respect for natural laws, he is simply going against the Ten Commandments in Christianity and PancaSila in Buddhism.

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