By David Hegg
No one knows for sure who said it first but we all need to understand it. While your reputation is what people think you are, character is what you truly are. Words to that effect have formed the basis of personal ethics for years. The person of real integrity is the person with no gap between their character and their reputation. They are the same person in public as when no one is looking.
Over the years I have had the privilege of meeting some very important people. Several years ago I was invited to participate in the U. S. Army War College’s National Security Seminar at historic Carlisle Barracks, just west of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was attached to Seminar 21, a group of colonels from various Army, Marine and Air Force units. Over the course of our presentations and discussions I came to understand how truly remarkable these men and women were. But it was in our “off duty” hours that I really got to know them. We shared meals, walks, family time and personal conversations. But what we really shared was who we really were once the uniforms and the reporters were gone.
I found that they were not only good soldiers and patriots, but also primarily outstanding men and women. And we discussed the reasons for their discipline, integrity and uncompromising character.
It came down to this: They truly believed in what they were doing, what it took to do it, and the price to be paid. I met men who had just returned from leading battalions in Iraq and Afghanistan. I met others who served in areas of security and intelligence whose decisions made the difference between death and life. Each of them bore the heaviest of burdens, and did so with a character borne out of absolute commitment to a code, a way of life both personal and professional. There was no gap between their reputation and their character.
In our search for leadership, whether in the home, in business, or in government at all levels, what we really need is not reputation, but character. And often it is hard to find, at least in a way that can be validated as genuine. In previous columns I have suggested that character is evidenced when we say what we mean and mean what we say. It also is displayed when we admit our mistakes and clean up our own messes. Here I’m suggesting that the kind of upright character necessary for leadership at all levels is the kind that isn’t compromised when no one is looking. This kind of character also stays uncompromised in public, which often means opposing the majority opinion of right and wrong.
The greatest men and women I have ever known personally understood that the fuel character provided was the only power their reputation needed. The most powerful, intelligent and influential people I’ve ever met were also the most humble, the most unconcerned about public opinion simply because they believed their lives spoke for them. Their actions were simply their character on display, their values turned inside out. Posturing and promising were unneeded. They let their lives speak, and their character pumped up the volume.
It is absolutely necessary that we as Americans return to the belief that who we are in private speaks volumes about who we will be in the public forum. Hypocrisy has become a national pastime, and we’re all the worse for it. It’s time we agree that character matters, and that those who refuse to demonstrate integrity in their personal lives will never be given the opportunity to lead ours.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.