Several decades ago as a sociology major at the University of Alberta I was intrigued by a study which featured a hidden camera to film men running on a track through a park.

Around the next corner was another hidden camera but this time an attractive female was introduced into the equation. She was simply sitting at a park bench watching the guys run by.

Any guesses what the study revealed? Of course you can guess. Almost 100% of the men straightened their posture, sucked in their gut and ran faster when passing the female observer. They also, of course, immediately slowed down again as soon as they were out of sight.

It’s called the ITG Syndrome — “Impress The Girl.” Actually, I just made that up but it seems to fit.

I recently went looking for that social experiment to verify the details. I couldn’t find it, but I did come across a much more recent article from Runner’s World magazine titled, “Why Men Speed Up When Running With Women.” It was the same deal all over again. ITG!

We are all at our best when the camera is on us. We are all at our best when we know we are being watched. The ultimate question of character, however, is just the opposite, “Who are we when no one is looking?”

Recent events in both Canada and the United States reveal that one of the most treasured, yet absent qualities sought in leaders is character. We are starved for individuals who will tell us the truth and then act in harmony with the truth they’ve told us.

Lest anyone think that what has been written so far is a set-up to trash national and international leaders for their character flaws, let me quickly declare that that expectation is about to be disappointed. The truth is, I can often discover the character flaws which are so obvious in them, in myself. The only major difference is that their flaws are magnified and broadcast on a much larger stage.

Not only is society starved for character to be found in our leaders, the same level of hunger exists across the spectrum. Spouses long for it their marriages. Children long for it in their parents, parishioners in their clergy and customers in those with whom they do business.

It is rare to encounter an organization or business that does not list honesty and integrity somewhere in its declaration of values. It is even more rare to discover one who really means it and for whom those qualities are more than a plaque to hang on the wall.

A while back I found myself in a television studio involved in an interview. It was a rather elaborate set with cupboards, a staircase and library. The irony of the experience is that although we were discussing honesty, integrity and character, everything on the set was a facade. The staircase didn’t go anywhere. The cupboards were empty and the library shelves were filled with fake books. It was all about appearance.

Character is the exact opposite. Who am I when no one’s looking? That’s the persona I need to cultivate.

Tim Schroeder is a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna.