“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, all is lost.” – Reverend Billy Graham
We all have character traits; both good and bad.
While our character is deeply ingrained within us, we can choose to ask God to remove our defects of character. This can be a lifelong process.
But, change can take place. I have seen it happen.
We all have a reputation; a glimpse of who other people think we are. Sometimes our reputation reflects our character. Sometimes it does not.
A good example of this relationship was illustrated by Robert Duvall in “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Duvall portrayed Arthur “Boo” Radley, a mentally challenged man who looked and acted
different than other people in the town. He was known to only leave his house at night. He was looked down upon and accused of every unexplained event that happened. He was considered to be an animal. He was feared.
That was his reputation.
However, Boo’s reputation changed from monster to hero by his actions. Boo was genuinely kind and protective of Atticus Finch’s children, Jem and Scout. In fact, he saved their lives when Atticus underestimated the threat that Bob Ewell, the angry father of the untruthful “victim,” posed to Atticus and his family.
After dark, Bob stalked the children with a knife. Just before he was able to harm them, the
knife turned and entered the vital organs of Bob Ewell. Boo Radley was standing next to him.
When Sheriff Tate learned of what happened, he decided that an investigation was unnecessary. He knew that Boo had saved the children and the town from Bob Ewell. Before he left the Finch home, Tate said, “I may not be much, Mr. Finch, but I’m still sheriff of Maycomb County, and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night, sir.”
That was Boo’s character.
Here are four truths about character and reputation:
1. Character is within our power. Reputation is a thing over which we have
2. Character cannot be taken away from us by anyone. Reputation can be
stolen from us by those bearing false witness and/or enemies.
3. Striving for character is strength. Aiming solely at reputation is weakness.
4. Character can temporarily be hidden by titles, degrees, knowledge, friends, family, words and work. But, eventually our character is revealed.
When character is revealed, it is usually seen in one of the below two circumstances:
1. Adversity – During times of plenty when life seems to go by smoothly, character remains mostly hidden. However, during periods of crisis, conflict and/or battle, a person’s true character surfaces.
2. Treatment of others – How a man treats another person who cannot benefit him or is considered unimportant reveals much. How a man treats a friend or family member who is suffering or going through a tough period in life reveals tenfold.
I suppose the best description of the difference between character and reputation can be heard at times in the Carrollton Municipal Court from Judge Lee Smith.
Judge Smith is an excellent judge in many ways – particularly when a young person appears before him. For years, I have witnessed Judge Smith lean over the bench and say these words, “Now, look. You have made one mistake here, but you have a bright future. That is, if you learn from this experience. Do you know the difference between reputation and character?
“Well, your reputation is built around your actions when everyone is watching. Your character is reflected by what you do when no one is watching.”
Jason Swindle is a criminal-defense attorney and college professor in Carrollton.