To set the stage for this article, it is necessary to reveal something of my dark past: I once got into trouble in high school!
It was an incident involving my entire homeroom class. The teacher didn’t show up, and we kids seized the opportunity to goof off.
Apparently, it was noisy enough to get the principal’s attention. This was back in the ‘70s in Jamaica where punishment was still being administered corporally in public schools, so his arrival at our homeroom naturally prompted fear.
But his reaction caught the class off guard. He quietly walked to the front of the room, sat on the edge of the teacher’s desk, crossed his arms, and simply stared at us.
It wasn’t a look of anger or disgust; it was one of surprise and disappointment. And it didn’t last long, though it seemed like an eternity.
Learning Character from Punishment
Then he arose, wrote our punishment on the chalkboard, and then turned around to face the class again.
This time he caught me off guard. Singling me out by name, he summoned me to his office for what I was sure would be a “come to Jesus moment.”
But it turned out he had something else in mind, something that has had a profound impact on my life to this day.
Minutes later when he arrived, he opened an office drawer and removed a sheet of paper. After expressing disappointment in the behavior of the class and surprise that I was involved in such antics, he handed me the paper and gave me a week to memorize its contents.
To my teenage mind, this was great relief. Instead of punishment, all I had to do was memorize something!
But the older I got, the more I understood and have appreciated what my principal intended by his actions that day.
Honing Character in Leaders
You see, I was singled out because of my role in student government. I was the school’s head boy! I did not yet know the Bible verse which says, “To whom much is given, much is required,” but my principal either knew it or held some similar conviction.
So without saying it, he cast a vision for my life that day. He beckoned me to bring my posture into alignment with my position, match calling with conduct, set my sights on something higher and nobler than I had engaged in with the rest of my classmates.
Knowing How to Reach Potential Leaders
So, what was on that sheet of paper? Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If. I had never heard of Kipling or his poem. But it fell into a tender crevice of my heart the first time I read it, and has remained there ever since. Here it is:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Work in Progress
Needless to say, I’m still a work in progress. But having a clear frame of reference, a paradigm for how I really want to live my life, gives me something to strive toward and has been priceless in my efforts at character formation.
Captured in a single sentence, it’s about becoming a person of rock-solid character.It's about becoming a person of rock-solid character. - Whaid Rose Click To Tweet
And as our nation grapples with the effects of a global pandemic, an economic recession, and widespread civil unrest, the need for character-based leadership has never been greater. The literary folktale about the emperor with no clothes is unwittingly re-enacted daily before our eyes.
Considering, then, that character flaws in leaders tend to replicate themselves in the cultures such leaders represent, and since the meaning of character is a moving target in today’s relativistic and politically charged world, this article is the first in a series aimed at hammering out a concise Bible-based definition of this important word.
Herbert Spencer, the English philosopher, rightly observed that “Not education, but character, is man’s greatest need, and man’s greatest safeguard.”
So thank you, Dr. Godfrey Dennis, for sending a teenage student in search of character. And thank God, he’s still on the journey!
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