Character… Character is defined as the “mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” I have no issue with this definition and it is fairly accurate. We could squabble regarding semantics but we all comprehend the intended meaning. My questioning comes from the intended application. How is character revealed or known?
Some would say, including me, that tough situations that test fortitude and grit reveal an individual’s character. A perfect example is football. I see it all the time on the field, at every level. You find out really quick what a person is made of when their back is against the wall and there is nowhere to run. However, that is an indirectly forced situation. What about the day to day revelations of character?
During my last class today, I excused myself to use the restroom. As I opened the door, a young high school student was drying his hands with a paper towel, heading for the exit. With earbuds in, as so many do these days, and head down, he never looked up and saw me. He then tossed the damp paper towel towards a closed trash can (you know the ones where you have to push the front lid with your hand to swing back the front slot and drop in trash; hope I described that accurately enough).
The wet towel missed by a mile and hit the floor. He continued along as if that never happened, until he looked up and saw me. Out of his mouth, a wimpish, “Oh, Sorry,” as if he had been caught red handed doing something, he knew better than to do. I simply responded, “You don’t have to apologize to me; my character wasn’t revealed in that moment.” He quickly ran over, picked up the trash and put it in the trash can and scurried out of the door I was holding for him.
It’s the truth, the application with respect to character. I tell my children, the athletes I coach, and teens and adults I teach, the same thing, “Character is defined in your actions when no one else is watching.” What you do when you are the only person to judge, to be the speaker and audience, the observer and observed, is where true character is revealed. We cannot hide from ourselves, no matter how well we can fool others. That person in the mirror always knows the truth.
I am no Saint. I do dumb shit sometimes and have questionable motives or ideas in certain moments. In those moments, I heat check my character. I ask myself, “Do I really want to do this? Am I that weak? Am I better than that? Is this okay? Am I uncomfortable with the implications or potential consequences?” I usually know the answer immediately. That does not mean I will always “do the right thing,” but that is for me to accept and not for you to judge. That is why I did not judge that young man today. That is why I told him it was his character revealed, not mine. What you do in the dark eventually comes to the light but while it is still hidden, you should still be proud of it or willing to accept judgement of self; the harshest of all judgement.