There was a time when the social, economic, and political currency was character. What I mean by a person of character is one who exhibits honesty, integrity, courage, and ethical behavior. How many people do you know who consistently display these attributes? Sadly, it seems they are rather scarce these days.
I knew such a person. My father who recently passed away was such a man. He was a member of the so-called ”Greatest Generation.” They were the people who grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. One of the hallmarks of the majority of that generation was steadfast honesty in business dealings as well as interpersonal interactions. I prefer to call them the Generation of Character.
My father was the most honest person I have ever known. He had his own business and had a reputation for honesty and integrity. He charged only what a job actually cost in terms of material and labor. He took pride in his work and used only materials of the highest quality. His profit margin was small, and his word was his bond. Moreover, he did his best to hold others to a similar standard when they provided business services or products to him.
He didn’t make a lot of money, and never had or asked for a lot. Yet, he was quite content knowing that he did his best to always do the right thing in every situation. The high road came naturally to him, so there was never a dilemma concerning which path to follow. He wasn’t perfect, but he got the important stuff right.
As far as I can tell, character was the mind-set of many members of the Greatest Generation—soon to be extinct. The depression and the war taught many of them humility and that God can take away all that we have at any time. It taught them to treasure family and friends, because they are with us for an indeterminant, and sometimes painfully short period of time.
For my own part, I lament, not only the loss of my father, but also the loss of character in so many members of contemporary society. What descriptor will historians use to characterize the present generations? What legacy of lifestyle will they (we) leave for future generations? Can character ever again dominate the human psyche and way of life of the majority?