The King of Character

Good day and happy (belated) New Year!

I woke up early this morning in the mood to blog. A mood no doubt brought on by that annoying “overdue” task named monthly blog highlighted in red in my Outlook task list. Well, so much for that resolution of no more procrastinating. I will try to work on it next year… assuming I can get around to it.

The weekend morning started in the usual way: coffee, dogs out and fed, more coffee, and check work emails before settling in for my morning devotion and scouring Facebook, Twitter and the web to get an any update on my daughter who is serving a short-term mission trip in Haiti with a door to hope. Slightly off the topic, but it’s a mixed bag of emotions when your kid goes out of the country into a third world country to do something like that. Concern for their safety and well-being, anxiety because information is limited, and of course, immense pride in what they are doing. All’s well and I am grateful, and can’t wait to hear about her experiences.

This morning’s devotion reading was a perfectly timed message. I say this because it was about the leadership trait of personal character, which got me thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we are celebrating this coming Monday. It reminded me of my favorite Dr. King quote:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

In my opinion, Dr. King deserves to be on the “Mount Rushmore” of character along with Jesus, Gandhi and Lincoln. They were all notable individuals who altered human history and shared the common threads of the pursuit of peaceful change, personal humility, and a purposeful life. A purpose, I might add, that was so compelling and so important that they would share another thing in common: each would give their life for it.

As I considered more, all these thoughts (Haiti, MLK, devotion) converged into one of those “ah ha” moments of caffeine-fueled clarity. I have always read and been taught that character as a leadership trait is a “thing” to be developed, forged from the fires of adversity or challenges to individual betterment. More or less, it’s something to be accomplished or obtained. I now realize that this is the wrong way to think about it because character development is not an “end” unto itself, but a “means to an end.” A developed character becomes a tool or an instrument through which we are able to live in harmony with others, at peace with ourselves, and ultimately a life pleasing to our Creator. And like any tool or instrument, it is only useful to the extent it is actually used. Which leads to the obvious question of “to what end?” which is best answered in the words (and actions) of Dr. King himself:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

Dr. King’s question is an important question that each of us must ask ourselves because it gets to the heart of our character, and our true motives for developing it. And by inference, it indicts the alternative (i.e. “doing for ourselves”) which, while it may be providing a very temporal form of self-satisfaction, ultimately leaves us feeling empty and void. I have yet to meet a person who lives the alternative who is truly happy; rather, they only project a facade of happiness veneered on by the superficial and easy wins of life.

A well-developed character is the means to a well-lived life for others. Dr. King’s life and legacy testifies to this truth. We best honor him by “doing for others”!

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