The Four Questions

*** Beginning Rungs of the Ladder

And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us . . . we will be measured by the answers to four questions:
First, were we truly men of courage . . .
 Second, were we truly men of judgment . . .
 Third, were we truly men of integrity . . .
 Finally, were we truly men of dedication . . .
Courage — judgment — integrity — dedication — these are the historic qualities.

— John F. Kennedy

Today, we are of greater average intelligence than at any other time in history, and we should make the most of the deep reservoir of knowledge that we now have at our fingertips. But we should also be wondering, what of our character? Have we become better men and women? It’s difficult to say.

Character represents the union of heart, mind, and soul. It is one of the most important — and most overlooked — aspects of growth. Part of the reason why is that there is no universal agreement on what “character” specifically means.

Each society uses some combination of attractive qualities — honesty, trust, faith, integrity, wisdom, and so on — to describe what it means to be a man or woman of character. But the criteria can change as we move between different societies. In the Western world, it is unlikely that a polygamist would be described as someone of character. But within the Maasai tribe of Tanzania, such a man could be revered.

The criteria for being a person of character can also change within the same society over time. Consider the United States during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries versus today. Before the Civil War, many men and women who were considered upstanding citizens participated freely and willingly in the abomination that is slavery. And would you or I have acted any differently had we been in their position?

Let’s simplify: Strive to live true to yourself in thought, word, and action. Strive to embody the qualities that you respect in others. And strive to become someone you are proud to be. Success achieved at your own or others’ expense is inevitably short-lived and unfulfilling. At some point, we all must look in the mirror.