The Quest for Good Character & The Struggle to Rebuild Lost Character
In matters of life, and of all human endeavor and enterprise, the quality of people often determine the outcome of such an enterprise or at least the most likely outcome of the endeavor. We live in a society that gauges success by those who are deemed to be “winners”, be it in business, sport, government, entertainment, and other areas of human engagement.
But Winning is NOT Everything
If we have learned anything over the last decade, it is that in life and in sport, politics, education, government and business and other pursuits, it is that “winning” is not everything. It is in how you win, and upon what basis you win, and whether or not you “won clean”, and “clean” can allude to performing without performance enhancing drugs, and it can allude to “not cheating” against the rules in a game, or the ethical and moral guidelines in how you conduct your life.
The reaction of the public to “cheating” in sport can be derisive in the public shaming and ridicule of those who “break the rules”, and yet, most of those people deriding the people, they themselves would likely not see their everyday existence as being in the same realm of cheating and doing what you need to do to get by or get the edge on someone, be it speeding a bit to get to work on time, or something else. But “cheating” is a fact of life. It happens all the time, and no, I am not condoning or excusing it. I am simply stating it is real, and not just in the “ones that get caught”. It is pervasive throughout society. It is so, because people are bent in a way that to do so is accepted and tolerated and excused among themselves. Are people perfect? No they are not. But the quest should be to live as morally and ethically as possible, and that includes all the “accepted forms of bending the rules” that we have embraced in our culture.
People React When They Get Caught & People Rarely Forget or Forgive
What I find baffling and astounding all at once, are those that hasten to judge and criticize others about things they would not think much about in themselves. We seem as a society, to elevate people as “role models” and as “heroes” for ourselves and for others, as a form of “inspiration” to do well at everything we do.
Look at the realm of sports, and I can name you teams and individuals that have stood out as being the epitome of success at what they do. They have outperformed others and they have been the best at what they do, and we as a society have applauded and cheered and identified with their achievement as if it were our own. What do you think when I mention these names?
Cycling – Tour De France, or as many call it, the “Tour de Doping”. Put the word “cycling” out there and the word association kicks in and you add “doping”, and then the name most associated with it all, The man who kept denying over and over, year after year, that he was not cheating, the name, Lance Armstrong.
PGA – Tiger Woods – he cheated on his wife, and it ended in divorce and destroyed his dominant golf game. Tiger has never recovered from 2009. He is now solidly on the “back nine” of his career, and he isn’t even 40 yet. He just doesn’t seem the same since the demise of his marriage and home life due to his infidelity. There are plenty of other golfers who have been caught in the same type of infidelity. It gives the sport of golf a bad rap, and not just the athletes.
MLB – I just have to say those initials out loud and right away I think of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens. These athletes, now retired, seemed to shoe-ins for the Hall of Fame, and they have been snubbed and likely will continue to be snubbed for a long time for their performance enhancing abuses. Most people believe their records should have an asterisk on their names. Such is the distain of the public and baseball lovers toward their former idols and stars.
NFL – The most dominant league in N. America, and look at their scandals just in the last year. In years previous you had the Michael Vick situation with the abuse of dogs. Last year you had Ray Rice with spousal abuse, and Adrian Peterson, and the abuse of his children, and Richie Incognito with bullying, and Tom Brady and deflated footballs. The range and scope of the NFL and its policy on “personal conduct” only highlights how important personal behavior is. The damage to the league has been huge and it seems like it is one black eye after another.
The political landscape has had its own share of scandals over behavior and ethics. One notable one was that of General Petraeus who as head of the CIA was having an affair. This scandal caused a change of the leadership of the CIA from a man who had well served his nation and could have had a great influence in the direction and redefinition of what the CIA within the US administration. This was a strategic loss to the US. All this because of a lack for fidelity from one of their top senior officials.
Different US governments and their administrations, regardless of political party, have been filled with scandals.
Not to pick on the United States alone, we in Canada have had our own political scandals.
Under PM Stephen Harper alone, since 2007, there have been multiple scandals, the Prime Minister’s Office trying to control the media centre (2007); the Maxime Bernier resignation over leaving sensitive NATO documents in the home of his ex-girlfriend, and his connections with Hell’s Angels (2007); the circumvention of election finance rules (2007); the proroguing of Parliament a second time, to avoid inquiry into the maltreatment of Afghan detainees, for which PM Harper was found to be in contempt of Parliament for refusing to share information (first time this happened in Canadian history) (2010); allegations of widespread voter fraud during the last federal election in 2011, known as the Robocall Scandal, affecting 38 of the ridings across the country (2012).
It seems the scandals of the Conservative Party of Canada, under the leadership of PM Stephen Harper, has only gotten worse since being elected with a majority mandate in 2011. The most recent scandals reveal an ongoing attitude of arrogance from the top office in the land. The ongoing scandal involved alleged wrong doing by Canadian government officials in the award of a $400 million information technology services contract (the ETS Scandal) and allegations of political interference in the ensuing cover-up (2000’s). There is the F35 scandal, involving the misleading costs of the F35 fighter jets to replace the aging fleet of CF18 jets (2012). Who can forget the ongoing scandal with the CFIA, involving the food inspection services being insufficient and inadequate for the Canadian public after government budget cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the temporary closure of XL Meats due to widespread E-Coli outbreak in Alberta, the PM’s home province (2012). The one scandal that is prominent and still very much in the public eye, even now on the eve of a new federal election, and that is the Canadian Senate expenses scandal. There is an ongoing investigation of expense claims of Canadian senators which began in 2012, and one of them, Mike Duffy is having his day in court disputing the RCMP investigation and findings. The other senators are Mac Harb, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau claimed travel and housing expenses from the Senate for which they were not eligible.
These are but a few known instances over the last decade of “cheating” to win in sport, politics and life.
Christians and Their Failures Become Embarrassment and Hinder the Missional Voice of the Church to the Culture at Large
We, in the spiritual/faith arena, who value personal faith in God, and the importance of living a consistent life that reflects these “values” and “personal ethical conduct”, have known more than enough scandals to cause public embarrassment. The list is pretty large of notable persons who have been caught in scandals.
Christian public personalities have had more than their share, in the USA, UK, New Zealand, and Australia and elsewhere. There have been all kinds of sexual misconduct, abuse and scandal, from Bishop Eddie Long, Dr. Albert Odulele, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Bob Moorehead, Robert Liardon, Pat Mesiti, Douglas Goodman, Paul Barnes, Earl Paulk, Michael Reid, Joe Barron, and Frank Houston. This is just some of the ones known to the public. All these people who fell and failed never returned to the prominence and influence they once held in the public eye and amid the Christian extended community and ministries. Their legacy has continued to affect their families and loved ones and the body of Christ worldwide.
Mark Driscoll & Mars Hill: Personal Failures Reaps Destruction of Ministry & Influence
There have been other Christians more recently denigrated by scandal, and inappropriate behavior, most notably Mark Driscoll, church planter, founder of Acts 29 Network ministry, and the megachurch Mars Hill congregation in Seattle and its satellite churches. Driscoll was known for his bash, combative nature and preaching a “macho gospel”, but was very abusive, bullying and intimidating of people and had a warped shepherding/oversight interference approach to leading and mentoring people. He had major issues that totally made his ministry implode from within and his public persona quickly was shot to bits and his itinerant ministry has suffered because of it. He resigned from his congregation, and the other satellite churches parted ways. The Acts 29 network ministry became fully autonomous and independent of him. As more and more of his “spiritual bullying” has become exposed, it has revealed a tragic side to the personal character, beliefs and practices of what was once considered a great Christian leader.
So Why All This Airing of All The “Dirty Laundry”?
Here I am reliving some of the most nightmarish events of the past decades, and shaking my head and asking myself why all this has continued to happen. There is a widespread “character crisis”, and we need to be engaged in creating a more honest, ethical, integrity driven public and personal life, so that the new standard will be based on good character, making the right choices for the right reasons, regardless of the consequences or cost.
Our Society’s Character Crisis
When I see and hear the news as instantly as moments after the events happens, on mobile devices, it beats what CNN used to do in broadcast news. CNN innovated in bringing the news as quickly as possible. Now with the advent of the Internet, WIFI, and handheld devices that have high resolution video and audio capability, and is readily available anywhere in the world, any news can be broadcast as close to an “instant” as possible. There are not editors to filter what a person can send. You get it “raw” and “as is”. This is only reinforced by social media and its use in promoting and sending news instantly to those that follow their RSS feeds online. Now add to that the kinds of news feeds we are given.
The Sad and Pathetic news: Scandals Sell – be they daily papers or digital copies
I listed the above scandals, from sport, to politics to religious headlines only to illustrate the crisis that exists today in the area of personal character. All we seem to get is the “bad news” about people, and not much “good news” about the people who sacrifice and serve others. It seems that very little attention is ever given on how a person develops personal character, integrity, honesty, and trust.
I noticed this trend increasing in the culture at large where in Canada there are privacy laws that protect privacy. There is the PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents Act) legislation that came into effect whereby the personal information of people, had to be protected, and you had to ensure you would only use private information as it pertained to the necessary services the person required. This affected everything from education, healthcare, government services, insurance and the whole strata of Canadian society. So PIPEDA became an everyday reality for us as citizens, and the concern to protect privacy.
I know you are asking, “Why are you bringing up the protecting of privacy in a discussion about character?”
It is quite simple. Think about life today, where your “word was your bond”, and now the “handshake” have gone the way of the Dodo bird. Everything is tightly protect by contract law, with obligations and responsibilities of parties clearly stated. This principle was applied to PIPEDA to protect all parties, and to ensure people complied to the intent of good “ethics” and “moral behavior”. There has been an ongoing “crisis in character” due to how the society we currently live in, has evolved over the last five decades. We live in a relativistic society, where the only absolute is that there is none. There is a crisis in accountability, coupled with an “I don’t care” attitude and a cavalier dismissive remark brushing you off, “You know everyone is doing it!”
Well, NOT everyone is doing it!
The current crisis in education is “cheating”. The Internet has turned cheating into an art form, and the CBC reported where universities are seeing a gap between what the students are telling us they are doing and the numbers of students being caught and sanctioned for their misbehaviors. Students cite the need to get work done quickly and as a result there is a rise in plagiarism. So, authorship and creative rights are compromised in academic institutions, and many people barely flinch at this gross misconduct.
This is becoming a crisis, and will only continue if veracity and truthfulness are not championed as necessary virtues in our culture.
You have athletes who cheat, who beat their spouses, bully team mates, and bully their children. These athletes are looked to as role models, but they are human beings like you and I. We could easily be them. Why do we deflect the mirror from our own lives, but hold others to a high standard of integrity and veracity? Why are we hypocrites?
You have politicians who seem to do all they can to be elected, and promise the world to their constituents, and then end up at the “public trough” and dismiss us if we question what they do and why they do it. They mock us when we hold them to account for failed promises or for lying after they were going to do something that was needed. I know that governments that are not kept on a short leash, usually abuse the right and privilege to govern the people. Majority governments in Canada are a dangerous thing. Parties get elected on their platforms and put their cabinets together, and then start to govern. They create a budget that gets debated and voted on, and they go about governing, passing laws, putting new policies and protocols in place, nationally and regionally. They have a ways and means of having people apply for contracts to do government work, and there is to be accountability. Yet, again and again, we find people we have put our trust in, have abused the system, or circumvented the checks and balances of the system, or have outright intentionally deceived others to get what they want done. Our current Conservative Party of Canada has been racked by scandal since 2007. This party should NOT be re-elected for usurping the democratic processes and for the misgoverning of the Canadian people. There is a crisis in government, from the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s Office, and on through the party’s ranks in government. BUT, none of the other parties deserve to point a finger at the Conservatives, for they are equally guilty, for they too do not have the public trust. For they too have a “crisis in character”.
You have a crisis in the Christian Church world-wide. I cannot and will not address other faith groups. I can only relate and identify with my own, and as such what affects the Church at large, it affects me personally as a person of faith. It affects the witness of the body of Christ to the world. How I live, and how I act, and my conduct and interactions with others will either confirm I am a follower of Christ, or will betray my witness of Christ. I have that much power, and so do you.
What Can We Do About It?
- Live authentically. We need to get real and be real. This implies we need to live lives marked by honesty. We need an honest self-appraisal of our lives, and look to bring about character changes as they are needed, and admit to our shortcomings, not to make excuses for them, but rather to confess them, admit them, and put in place those things that bring about a change in character and behavior. We cannot get the outcomes we want, without doing the interior work of the heart.
- Live with accountability. No matter where you are in society today, there are mechanisms in place for personal accountability. We need to embrace accountability as a choice, and not simply a compliance to a demand from someone or an organization. If I am secure in who I am as a person and I am growing and developing as a person, I am going to recognize that accountability is all part of the process and it is a good thing. We deal with KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) in all spheres and strata of our society, and we should have our own measurement of our true selves, and be able to evaluate who we are and what we have become by looking at those key performance indicators.
- Live with integrity. Integrity is a huge issue in the culture at large, and it needs to be a priority and not just a “get by with a minimum” kind of mindset. You either have integrity or you don’t have it. It is that simple. You compromise on integrity, they it is not there.
- Live with failure as a learning experience. Too much of our lives are filled with “failure avoidance”, avoidance of dealing with failure, and avoidance in admitting our failures and the risks of failure. Failure is part of living. All of us fail, and all of us have had others fail in our circle of influence. We know failure. But we don’t need to deny it or avoid it. We need to embrace the failure and learn from it and put in place the things need to move on from the failure and turn the failure into a force for positive change.
- Live a life filed with grace, truth and compassion. I believe we all need to live lives that are filled with grace, truth and compassion on every level of human encounter and interaction, from our most intimate relationships, to how we relate with our families and our loved ones, to those with whom we work, to those with whom we play, and with those with whom we serve and help. This is living LARGE. This will be when we are true to our self, true to God, true others, and the outflow will be a change that is visible and tangible in character.
I am tired of hearing of the scandals in society at large, in sport, in education, in politics, in church life. I want to see change, where “character” is seen and honored and respected. But I cannot force this on anyone else. I can only model it myself and live it out in my home, with my wife and daughters and sons-in-law, my extended family and friends, my work place and all the encounters I have when I meet and engage with people. I need to “practice” what I preach.
None of us can afford to give up on humanity or on our society. We need to be involved and active as agents of change in our culture. Character can grow and develop and it takes work. It only happens when people of character relate with other and model the right kind of attitude and behavior. When that happens, change begins, one person at a time. We just need to individually do the right thing, at the right time for the right reason. When you do, you have success.
PHILIPPIANS 4 [The Message]
8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
We just need to individually do the right thing, at the right time for the right reason. When you do, you have success.