Every once in a while one does not need many words to communicate what needs to be said.In fact in this case the message consists of only one word.
The problem with such a brief message is that I am a preacher and preachers get paid by the word, so we never say in one word what can be said in five hundred.
The one word message answers this question: “What is the most desperately needed quality in the world today?” For the record, I am not way suggesting it to be the only quality in short supply, just one, big one.
What is it that is so desperately needed yet missing? Character!
One of my mentors defines character as who you are when no one is looking. It means doing what is right, always, not just when your actions are being inspected. It means operating with integrity always, not just when convenient. It means acting with compassion and in the best interest of others not just when profitable but when costly.
Our son recently returned from a medical project in Africa. Debriefing the experience revealed that one of the biggest challenges facing the under-developed country he was in is not just a shortage of necessary medical supplies. It is corruption. Desperately needed supplies are quickly diverted and sold at exorbitant prices to line the pockets of the already rich, leaving the poor to die.
In the United States, truth, integrity and morality have all made the endangered species list.Character has long since been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Regardless of political affiliation one can’t even tabulate the lies any more.
Canadians dare not be smug. It is one thing to point fingers at corruption in developing nations or among our neighbors, but we dare not deny that the “character gap” looms just as large right in our own backyard.
Diagnosing the problem is easy. Now comes the hard part. Anyone can be a critic, working on solutions is infinitely more difficult.
It begins with a massive movement of zero tolerance for lying. The fact that we have come to expect leaders to lie to us must
become unacceptable. Creating an appetite for truth needs to begin in our homes, echo through school rooms, work environments and legislative assemblies.
We need high tolerance for mistakes and zero tolerance for cover-ups. There is a reason people lie, it works. Many people who run for office shamelessly lie because it gets them elected. We want to hear nice things whether true or not.
What is desperately needed is a large scale engagement to ruthlessly eliminate lying from our culture. Telling a lie should result in certain defeat for a student, business person or politician. There is a reason God included lying in the Ten Commandments. It destroys the very fabric of society.
Second, we need to review what we
reward. Those who act in the best interest of others, those who compete with integrity, those who engage in prosocial behaviour should be featured and held up as the standard to emulate. Every time someone lacking in character is rewarded or held up as a success the foundation of society crumbles a little bit more.
I write with full awareness that my
comments invite criticism. First, I am not flawless in my own character. Second, the underlying premise may appear simple or naive to some. It may be simple but it is not simplistic.
If underdeveloped nations in Africa, or world super powers, or small Canadian cities, or even individuals like me would simply notch up the character quotient, the quality of life would be enhanced for everyone.
Tim Schroeder is pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna