The Question Of Character

by Colonel Dan


The Cowboy Chronicle

January  2004


"Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you  must be without one, be without the strategy."  ~ H. Norman Schwarzkopf ~

2004 signals the start of yet another agonizing election year.  As I listen to the political rhetoric from a seemingly never ending campaign trail, I continually hear calls from and for politicians and pundits alike to stick to the issues, discuss policy and specific ideas instead getting into personal attacks.  Personal attacks being defined as any question that touches on character—even if that question of character is based on verifiable fact, past actions or words of the candidates themselves. 

In my view however, character is the very essence of leadership—the source and shaper of a person’s judgment, trustworthiness and honor. By far, character is the most important issue we should be evaluating in choosing our leaders—much more so than all this tripe about specific positions on policy or strategy. 

A politician’s position on any single issue can change more frequently in Washington than the position of the pigeons that festoon the capital dome—and I don’t say that in a disparaging way.  Specific policy details are based on the fluid national and international scene, circumstances dependent on an infinite number of variables that are often times outside the control of any politician.  Therefore it is unreasonable to expect any candidate to be able to tell you with a high degree of specificity what detailed policy he will support over his elected term in any selected situation or on any issue.  Besides, how do we know that what they say today, they will or can actually do tomorrow? 

The closest we can come to gaining insight into how someone will act in office is by closely examining the general philosophy with which the candidate views life and how they have actually lived their life.  With what internal make up and set of eyes does he or she view the world and life in general?  Past behavior provides the best insight of the person, their capabilities, reflects their character and is by far, the best indicator of future behavior.  As Patrick Henry said in 1774:

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided and that is the lamp of experience.  I know of no other way of judging the future but by the past.

I look at this in the same way I selected key NCOs and young officers for positions of leadership within my units.  After seeing evidence of basic military competence, I evaluated the candidate’s character more than any other attribute.

Character is the foundation of his judgment, honor, integrity and decision making capability.  I didn’t grill them on what they would do in every conceivable situation over the next 2-4 years.  When I found a person with the right stuff, I knew I could trust them to make sound decisions, regardless of the specifics of the situation.  It was the question of character that earned my trust and confidence and thus determined the final selection. 

Character is the word I use to describe the essence and earthly manifestation of a person’s soul, the source of what they are, that which forms their behavior—the very font of their being.  It is the basis of that which they draw upon to determine and define what they call judgment, trust and honor and it is character which will ultimately determine and guide the strategy of their life—their policies if you will.   

A lot goes in to making up one’s character.  You can say it depends on upbringing, what God given values were instilled in them during their most formative years, what was developed within as they matured over a lifetime and where they placed their priorities in that life.  One of those characteristics of very great importance being how they view themselves relative to others, relative to their job or mission, and relative to God and country.  If they place themselves first, and all else second, and does so regardless of facts or truth, and has no remorse when they do so, we have evidence of a sociopath.  If however their character is such that they place themselves fourth in line behind God, Mission and Others, we have the makings of a leader.

I define God in this case to include not only God himself, but moral values, honesty and truth.  Mission I see as the job or vocation.  Others I categorize, not just as individuals with whom a person directly interacts, but their fellow countrymen as well.  How they view those three elements relative to self will determine what is most important in their life, in their make up, and in their foundation.  It is this view that helps drive a person to do the things they do in any given set of circumstances.  It will be the focus and foundation of their decision-making process and what they will use as their frame of reference when seeking solutions to the problems they face.  This view becomes the eyes with which they see the world and defines that world.  Is their world self-centered or mission centered?  Are their priorities based on an ambitious, self-indulging philosophy or a selfless, serving one? Do they or will they place honor and integrity before personal interest and ambition in what they have done or anything they will do?  Will they be truthful with those they serve?  

If a person’s judgment is guided by and based upon a solid foundation of honor, integrity, and common sense, what I describe as character, that person will make sound decisions—decisions made in the best interest of the country.  And if such a person does not have the expertise necessary to make an informed decision on some given issue, a person of character will admit it and humbly seek advice from honorable people who do have the necessary expertise because they know such decisions are far more important than either public image or self.

If on the other hand, they have no honor, lies when the truth would suit better, has no moral values, does not put God, mission and others above self and their own interests or ambitions and has a history of corruption, I don’t care what they say about policy.  I will never be able to rely on nor trust them to act in the best interest of America, even if I agree with the details of what they currently say about policy or strategy.  The character of such a person is flawed and they are not worthy of trust—on anything.  The bible itself addresses this issue:

“If you can trust a man in little things, you can also trust him in greater; while anyone unjust in a slight matter is also unjust in greater.”

 ~ Luke 16: 10 ~

I’ve always believed and relied on that sound advice and still do.   If politicians lie with natural ease about little things, then they have a seriously flawed character.  Consequently, they can’t be trusted with the greater responsibilities demanded of a leader.

And I suppose it’s evident by now that I don’t buy these left wing stories we heard during the Clinton impeachment about what the private man is doesn’t affect what the public man does.  To believe that, you would have to believe that a person has two brains and two distinct sets of formative life experiences!  I’ve seen fewer bullchips in rodeo stockyards.    

A person in a position of leadership that you cannot trust is not a leader; he is a dangerous pretender—a fraud.  I don’t want frauds representing me or leading our country.  I want proven character in our leaders—with or without a current detailed strategy on every conceivable issue. 

For whatever a man or woman is or ever will be depends on and is determined by character—all that they are, emanates from and is born of that character.  General Schwarzkopf and I are of like mind in this.  If I had to choose to do without character or strategy in a candidate, I would do without strategy because solid character will most times spawn solid strategy but corrupt character spawns only corruption. 

Just the view from my saddle…

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