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We need a character bailout

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–There is much evidence to suggest that America is teetering on the brink of economic crisis. But despite dire financial forecasts, there is another crisis that threatens the United States far more than the bankruptcy of the Big Three automakers. It is the crisis of character.

Someone once observed that a person’s character is defined by what he or she does when no one is looking. It’s also been suggested that character is best revealed by what a person would do if he or she knew they would never get caught.

No matter how you slice the subject of character, it all comes back to behavior. A person’s character is the sum total of what a person says and does. Every individual is in absolute control of his or her words and actions — no exceptions.

How many times has a politician or celebrity been caught saying something derogatory only to offer the excuse they thought the conversation was off the record or the microphone was turned off? In other words, the offending party wants you to believe that their true character is contained in carefully crafted sound bites and not in any off-the-cuff private conversations.

“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is?” observed C.S. Lewis. The author and philosopher added, “Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth?”

The cancer of corrupt character is ominous because it affects not only government and corporations but also touches our schools, our churches and our homes. It undermines every facet of life.

Every week produces evidence that confirms America’s character crisis. This week news stories reported the moral failings of Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich complete with the politician’s foul-mouthed private conversations.

Another news story that points to America’s character crisis concerns Bernard Madoff, founder and president of a New York firm that invested funds for wealthy individuals. Madoff was charged with operating what has been described as a long-running $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Madoff’s con may prove to be one of the largest frauds in history.

Perhaps even more telling than the aforementioned stories is the crisis of character among America’s youth. The Josephson Institute of Ethics released the results of a survey it recently conducted with 29,760 high school students. Some of the results of the survey are as follows:

— 30 percent admit to having stolen something from a store in the past year.

— 36 percent admit to having used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

— 64 percent admit to having cheated on a test during the past year; 38 percent said they did so two or more times.

— 42 percent said they sometimes lie to save money.

— 83 percent admit they sometimes lie to a parent about something significant.

Compounding these alarming statistics, the Josephson Institute revealed that dishonesty among students has increased in the last three years. Michael Josephson, the institute founder, said he believes the figures are conservative and that the actual number of dishonest students is likely greater than the survey reveals.

If the Josephson Institute survey is even close to accurate, America’s character crisis is set to become only worse. After all, today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders.

If our nation is to be rescued from the current character crisis, we must understand character is corrupted over time.

There have been a myriad of politicians and chief executive officers who have been brought low by corrupt character through the centuries. However, not one of them woke up one day and thought, “Today I will perpetrate a great crime.” No, they all arrived at their great downfall one step at a time.

Jesus said that a person faithful in little things would also be faithful with much. The converse is also true. A person that does not give attention to little things will also be irresponsible with much. In the final analysis, it is a lot of little moral failures that produce corrupt character.

There is no quick-fix or easy solution to America’s crisis of character. There is no bail-out for corrupt character. One by one, we must take responsibility for our words and deeds, our actions and reactions. It will take time. However, enough people practicing good character can reach a tipping point. If it does, we will once again see integrity, the fruit of character, flourish in America.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs