If I asked you who your hero was who would you say? Lebron James, Taylor Swift, Meryl Streep, Tom Brady? These are some of our modern day heroes. These heroes are personalities. They are entertainers. They are funny. They lead interesting lives. They wear great clothes and blow up the Internet on the runway. They are fun to watch. Interesting to follow on their Instagram feed.
But there was a time, not so long ago, when our heroes were heroes of character, and not just personalities. Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks. Can you see the difference? Our heroes today are personalities, not people of character. They are movie stars and athletes and TV personalities and models. They are pop stars and rappers and rock stars. That’s not to say that none of our heroes have character. The LeBron James foundation has designated $41 million dollars to send kids from Akron to college for free. That’s character. But the reason you know him is not because of his character. We just don’t value good character as much as we once did.
Resume Values vs. Eulogy Values
The reality is that most of us will never become so famous that we are recognized by our picture. But that doesn’t mean that if we aren’t careful that we can’t become more personality driven than character driven. I got a hold of a great book on character that made it to number one on the Times Bestseller List. It’s called “The Road to Character” by David Brooks and he makes a great point:
Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed. Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé virtues, but I confess that for long stretches of my life I’ve spent more time thinking about the latter than the former. Most of us have clearer strategies for how to achieve career success than we do for how to develop a profound character.
Let’s be honest. Who struggles with this? Do you have clearer vision for your resume success than your eulogy success? I know that can be true for me at times. If you, like me, struggle with that then I hate to tell you this but we may have slid from being people of character to personalities. We have focused more on the outside that everyone can see than on the inside qualities.
The Original Heroes
Before there was LeBron or T-Swift or Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela, there were the Biblical heroes whose stories you may have been familiar with since childhood. Take Daniel, for example; I think you and I could learn a lot about how to be a hero of character from Daniel. talked a little about Daniel in my last post, but for those of you who didn’t read it (and shame on you), let me recap:
Daniel and his friends were taken prisoner when Babylon attacked Israel. To soften the blow of captivity, the King of Babylon offered to feed the prisoners the same food that was served at his table. We’re talking steak from Ruth Chris, arugala pear pizza from Cucina Urbana, double bacon cheeseburger from Hodad’s; all the best food you can think of, the king was offering to Daniel, but Daniel said no. Why would he refuse all of this mouth-watering food? Because it wasn’t kosher and so to eat it would be to dishonor God. God rewarded Daniel for his faithfulness and made sure that he was given a prime government job as an advisor to the king.
We pick up Daniel’s story 61 years after he took his first position. Now we get to the good stuff: Daniel in the lions’ den. According the The Top Tens website, Daniel in the lion’s den is the 9th most popular Bible story right after Jonah and the whale.
Daniel did such a good job in this position that the king was planning on promoting him to be in charge of all of the kingly advisors. This is where we pick up the Daniel story and this where we get lesson #1 about being a hero of character:
1 It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so.—Daniel 6: 1-4
First lesson we can learn about living a life of character from Daniel is this:
Lesson #1: People Will Take Shots at You
This probably isn’t the encouragement you were hoping for about living a life of character, was it? It’s a little demotivating, but it’s my job to give it to you straight. The reality is, if you develop deep character, and pour yourself into goals that really matter, you’d think that you could get off without a lot of criticism and haters, but unfortunately that is not true. In fact, sometimes it may even be the opposite. If you have potential, people will not see it. If you have great skills and abilities, people will try to take shots at you to bring you down. I think I’ve told you my leadership philosophy before: If you attempt to make a difference, to care for people and change the world, someone, somewhere will think you are doing it wrong. Let me give you a couple of examples:
- A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he said, “He has no good ideas”
- From the journal of William Johnson: “We already have the telegraph, providing communications for all who desire it. The added virtues of voice communication at a distance are unclear. For myself, I think Mr. Bell’s telephone is a doomed curiosity with no real purpose.”
So what’s my point? Simple: Let’s stop talking about character because if you develop it, those around you will take shots at you? Definitely not. I know this sounds like a bad place to start blog on character, but I am committed to one thing: I want to tell you the truth. I want to be honest with you, but I’m not going to try to cover up the ugly side. This is the ugly side of having character, but hold on; there’s an upside. This story get’s pretty good. Let’s look at the second lesson we can learn on character:
Lesson #2: A Person of Character Doesn’t Hurt People
5 They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 6 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”—Daniel 6: 5-6
There are a couple words in this passage that give us a picture of Daniel’s character : Daniel was neither corrupt nor negligent. In other words, he didn’t do evil intentionally, or by accident. I don’t really like these verses because it takes away my go-to move: “I didn’t mean it.” Do you have that move? There are lots of derivatives, which one is yours?:
- I didn’t mean to hurt you.
- I really meant well.
- I wasn’t trying to cut you down.
- I was only joking.
If those don’t work, we blame our mistakes on circumstances:
- I’m sorry I was in a bad mood today.
- I apologize; life has been crazy lately.
- You’re right, but if you understood what was going on at work you’d understand.
If you don’t like those, you can get really creative and blame your heritage:
- I’m sorry I hurt your feelings but I learned my tact from my mom
- I’m sorry. I got my temper from my dad.
- I’m sorry I got mad, but you know us Italians.
What is that? You get a hall pass because you’re related to Tony Soprano? What made Daniel a man of character is that not only did he not hurt people intentionally, he also didn’t do it unintentionally. So how do we get to that place in our lives? Stay tuned folks, because that’s a question that I’m going to answer in my next post: “Holding Out for a Hero, Part 2.”