Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
There was a well-known basketball coach named John Wooden who once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no-one is watching”. I reckon it’s a fascinating question—because it reveals a person’s true character.
Some people say, Life is too short to worry what others think of me—I’ll do whatever I want. Others are self-conscious knowing others are observing them. But what about in those quiet moments when you’re totally on your own? It’s a rare thing to encounter a human being that is the same in all surroundings. There’s usually a persona for work, a character for home and one for the club, parties and social scenes.
I guess I’m over-dramatising, but there’s a point here. I want to know who you are when no one’s looking, even when your family isn’t around. What are you really like? Far too often we hide from others, and put on an invisible mask, to give everyone a good impression.
If you went to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, you would find a most unusual ship called the ‘Vasa’. What’s remarkable about it is this: it’s almost perfectly preserved after sitting in mud on the ocean bottom for 400 years. It was meant to be sailed—but only lasted 20 minutes before sinking. It was a 64-gun Swedish ship rushed into service by an impatient king. Problem was there was more weight in the guns above the water line than there was in the ballast below the water line. It simply toppled over, filled with water and sank.
There’s a lesson here. The top bit—what people see of us—is only a fraction of the real you and me. It’s character that matters—that part no-one else sees but I know the real me. A person without a good character is like a ship with a ballast—waiting for disaster. We need to build significant character in our own lives.
Character Is Becoming Less Important
The debate over good vs evil has gone on for centuries. But we know our true selves, the good and bad—our errors and mistakes and untruthfulness. We mostly think man is basically good, and has noble intentions. But the Bible has an interesting statement from King Solomon, considered the wisest man in recorded history. He concluded, “There’s not one totally good person on earth, not one who is truly pure and sinless.”
Statistics show character has rapidly declined over the past 20 years. People exhibit significantly less desirable character traits than even five years ago. Formation of questionable character starts early. Studies among school children show that 24% of children as young as kindergarten admit to lying, cheating, and stealing. Seventy-five percent of all high-school students admit to cheating regularly, and 90% of middle-schoolers admit to copying other people’s material. The consensus of students interviewed was why not cheat and steal if you won’t get caught? If you look good, who cares how you do it? Indeed. We live in a society where self-serving ends justify the questionable means. Most people can quote the golden rule, “Do to others what you would like done to you.” But how much notice do we take of the Biblical statement?
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King David, Solomon’s father, was considered a good man. But he knew his own heart and how evil he was. He was a liar, adulterer, murderer and thief. He thought, like the school children, that if his wrongdoings were hidden and no-one knew them, they were acceptable. In a confession of his own failings, he wrote, “Lord, you have examined me and know all about me. You know my thoughts before I think them. You know everything I do.” (Psalm 139)
Building Up Our Character
Yes, character is what we do when no-one is looking, but God sees everything. I’m sure coach Wooden was also correct when he said, “In pursuit of being the best (person) possible, you should always assume someone is watching and act accordingly.”
Try integrating these five ideas to uphold character in your own life:
- Take a Personal Audit. Are you the same person in public as when you are alone? Do you change your persona to fit the situation? Would you act a certain way if your grandmother or boss were watching? Take an honest look at your personal failings and adjust them.
- Be Honest. When you make a mistake, don’t justify it—acknowledge it. Do the right thing, apologize if necessary, and change your behaviour. Character can be moulded with practice.
- Phone a Friend. Is there an area you struggle with? Find a trusted mentor and advisor to hold you accountable. When temptation comes your way, get help instead of compromising your character.
- Be a Promise-Keeper. Follow through. Don’t slander others. Don’t steal, cheat, hate, or lie. Be faithful and when you fail, try again.
- Read the Operating Manual. The God who created us knows us better than we know ourselves. Why not pick up the instruction Book? Open the Holy Bible to the New Testament. Start with the character training in the Gospel of John. Flip forward two books to Paul’s instructional letter to the Romans. The book of James is another good handbook to learn more about living with character.
The second part of this article has been sourced from:
“Character Is What You Do When No One Is Watching”, Trish Propson, 2015