Dr. Jamie Jenkins: The Development of Moral Character

Until Election Day, November 2, we will continue to be bombarded with claims of accomplishments and accusations of incompetence. Candidates' behavior will be called into question and the wisdom of past decisions will be challenged.

Political campaigns can cause one to wonder if anyone desiring to be elected is really capable or has the character to be a public servant. It is alright to disagree with the actions and opinions of another but politics often involves more than that.

I am not as much concerned with differences of opinion on issues as I am about the character of the persons who will be making decisions on our behalf. I believe oftentimes there is more than one way to do the right thing. My hope is that elected officials, and other leaders, are people who have the desire and the will to do what is right and in the best interests of their constituents.

In an interview with Forbes magazine W. Michael Blumenthal, chairman of Unisys, talked about qualities needed in leaders. He said, "You have to try to make sure they have a clear sense of what is right and wrong, a willingness to be truthful, the courage to say what they think and to do what they think is right, even if the politics militate against that." He went on to say that he was often impressed with the knowledge and intellect of an individual and "did not always pay enough attention to the question of how honest, courageous and good a person the individual really was."

John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach advised, "Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are." That is good advice whether the person is a leader in business, education, politics, or religion.

Building and developing character is not something that comes automatically, accidentally, or quickly. It is not hereditary. It is cultivated in the activities and decisions of the ordinary and everyday. It has been said: "Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." In other words, the development of a good moral character is intentional and incremental. Each decision and act determines and builds upon previous actions and choices.

Charles Swindoll (Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.107-8) suggests that the world needs people:

who cannot be bought;

whose word is their bond;

who put character above wealth;

who possess opinions and a will;

who are larger than their vocations;

who do not hesitate to take chances;

who will not lose their individuality in a crowd;

who will be as honest in small things as in great things;

who will make no compromise with wrong;

whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires;

who will not say they do it "because everybody else does it";

who are true to their friends through good report and evil report, in adversity as well as in prosperity;

who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning, and hardheadedness are the best qualities for winning success;

who are not ashamed or afraid to stand for the truth when it is unpopular;

who can say "no" with emphasis, although all the rest of the world says "yes."

Solomon set a good example for all leaders. He recognized that he was inadequate for the task before him and he asked God for "a discerning heart" (I Kings 3:9).The character of the psalmist was exhibited when he asked the Lord to "teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). These are good examples for everyone, and especially for persons who are leaders.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," Oct. 25, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]