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What gift can we all possess that costs nothing but is worth everything? That we can demonstrate daily, but lose in seconds if we don’t guard it carefully? That determines the quality of our relationships and directs our choices in life?
That great treasure is good character.
President Ronald Reagan focused on character in his 1993 commencement speech to the graduates at Citadel Military College in South Carolina.
“The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined,” Reagan said. “It has been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments.
“It has been determined by all the little choices of years past-by, all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation, whispering the lie that it really doesn’t matter.
“It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away – the decisions that piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness, habits of self-sacrifice or self-indulgence, habits of duty and honor and integrity – or dishonor and shame.
“Because, when life does get tough, and the crisis is undeniably at hand – when we must, in an instant, look inward for strength of character to see us through – we will find nothing inside ourselves that we have not already put there.”
A solid character foundation includes honesty, loyalty, respect and unselfishness. Let’s take them one at a time.
Honesty. Telling the truth at all times builds character. Your word has to be your bond. Complete honesty in little things is not a little thing at all. Honesty, ethics, integrity, values, morals – all mean the same thing. In my estimation, you can interchange them, because they all convey the single attribute that determines whether a person or an organization can be trusted. If truth ever stands in your way, you are headed in the wrong direction.
Loyalty is royalty. The first quality I look for in employees or friends is loyalty. I would rather have a terrific employee work for us for a few years and be true to our company values than someone who still shows up every day, punches the clock and hangs around just to collect a paycheck.
Respect. You must respect other people and their property. You don’t have to fear your competition, but respect their abilities. Showing respect is not a sign of weakness – it’s a show of strength. As baseball great Jackie Robinson said, “I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
Unselfishness. The reason I love team sports is that players learn the power of teamwork and how to be unselfish, regardless of their individual abilities. Basketball superstar Michael Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. His personal accomplishments on the court give him bragging rights beyond compare. Yet he wrote in his book, “I Can’t Accept Not Trying”: “There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win championships. Most of the time, those players aren't willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve.”
Character is revealed when pressure is applied. You’ve probably heard the saying that sports do not build character. They reveal it. How a person plays the game shows something of their character; how they lose shows all of it. The same is true for business.
Hall of Fame College Football Coach Lou Holtz describes character this way: “The answers to three questions will determine your success or failure:
1. Can people trust me to do my best?
2. Am I committed to the task at hand?
3. Do I care about other people and show it?
“If the answers to these questions are yes, there is no way you can fail,” Holtz said.
Helen Keller was born perfectly healthy but was left completely blind and deaf when she suffered an illness at 18 months. For five years she was isolated from the world until a special teacher named Anne Sullivan helped her fight back against her challenges.
Helen Keller said: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”
Mackay’s Moral: Character is what you are when no one is watching.
Reprinted with permission from nationally syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller “Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” and the new book “We Got Fired!…And It’s the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us.”


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