Is U.S. Character Deficit > U.S. Budget Deficit?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

We measure our current budget deficit and debt in concrete terms. But the word “character” is inevitably as abstract and subjective as “fair,” “happy,” “smart,” “stupid,” etc. These expressions, to the extent we use them, only have the meaning we give them.

Now perhaps I’m naive. After the close of the state primaries last night I expected Bernie Sanders to display his strongest and most positive character traits. And then I made the mistake of reading the news. In particular I looked at this New York Times article. And sure, it is a “news analysis.” But the fact is at a critical inflection point – the conclusion of the state primaries – Bernie Sanders didn’t graciously concede defeat. He did not state that now is the time for the Democratic party to unite. He did not congratulate Hillary Clinton. He did not ask his supporters to throw their weight behind Ms. Clinton. Nope. Instead, because of his seeming unwillingness to accept quantitative data clearly showing Hillary Clinton has won the popular and delegate contest, Mr. Sanders delivered a “speech of striking stubborness” at 10 p.m. Pacific time last night.

And then we have record of Mr. Sanders’ 3,000 supporters booing when he mentions Hillary Clinton’s name during this speech. 100 years ago women didn’t have the right to vote. 95 years later we have ourselves the very first female candidate for the U.S. presidency. This is amazing and awesome and overdue. And yet they boo. Sure, they might be tired, frustrated, angry, and they may very well loathe everything they think Ms. Clinton stands for. But at a critical inflection point, they boo.

And our kids get to see this? This is the quality we want them to emulate? Really?

I can’t put a dollar figure on what our character deficit must be costing us, But I imagine it is a huge sum. And lest you think by not picking on the other guy I somehow favor him, that is not the case. However, the news media already extensively cover every microbe of the stinky, sexist, racist and downright toxic farts emanating from Mr. Trump’s carbon life form ass. It doesn’t make any part of his conduct acceptable – and certainly not for anyone running for President. It’s just not surprising.

But enough with the pontificating. Let’s now discuss positive character traits. I don’t have the perfect dictionary definition, nor does anyone. Yet each of us has the opportunity to sit down with a piece of paper and write down what we think “character” means and how we can walk the talk more consistently. Why is it important to do this and strive for an intention to exemplify them? It’s because we are role models to our children, our nephews and nieces and grandchildren, our students and mentees, our work colleagues, our friends and our friends’ families, and everyone else on the planet as well.

Must we score a 10 out of 10 in each of our defined areas all the time? Hell no and not even close. We will screw up royally all the time, but hopefully less so over time. In addition we may have a few perennial and chronic weak spots. But do we know what those are? And are we working to improve in those areas? If not, then maybe today is a good day to start.

Here are 12 positive character traits I just scribbled down.

1) AWARE – Self-awareness is always the first step. Without this it’s pretty much impossible to keep oneself in check. Surrounding yourself with a spouse or very close friend to help out by giving you an occasional ear flick is always a good idea.

2) EMPATHETIC – This is all about considering and proactively responding to others’ thoughts and feelings by imagining life from their perspective.

3) GOOD LISTENER – Talk less. Listen more. Read people’s body language. Look at their facial expressions. Don’t think about your next ‘point’ while the person you’re engaged in conversation with is still making her/his.

4) KIND – Treat others as you wish to be treated. Be more giving. How am I internalizing this one? I have decided to lower my protective shield of unnecessary cynicism and abrasiveness, and spend a lot more time pondering the meaning and positive implications of living by the Maya Angelou quote at the top of this article.

5) DIRECT – Lest you think being direct is mutually exclusive from kindness, it is possible to be kind in your directness. Many of us have appreciated working with senior executives who were able to dole out tough medicine without using a blow torch.

6) FOCUSED – I admire people who are goal-oriented and resolute. I appreciate knowing what they are about, what they stand for, what they want.

7) OPEN-MINDED – Considering alternative perspectives, being open to thinking and doing things differently, spending time or at least having a conversation or three with very very different people…how are these bad things?

8) RESILIENT – “Grit” is rapidly making its way into our academic and business lexicon, and for good reason. Being determined and resolute despite setbacks increases our likelihood we will learn from mistakes and achieve our aims.

9) GRACIOUS – Sometimes we win and other times we lose. How can we be more gracious and hero-like in each of these situations?

10) GRATEFUL- This goes beyond what you mutter once per week at the mosque, temple, church, et cetera. How do you express and share gratitude consistently? Oops, I almost forgot this next one.

11) CONSISTENT – Here is a hint for my compadres interviewing for jobs. If someone describes the CEO at the company you are about to join as “mercurial,” run for the hills. Yes, I know. “Steve Jobs,” you will say. My response? Sigh.

12) PEACEFUL – No, I’m not professing we don our clove cigarettes and patchouli oil to live in an eternal world of marijuana bliss. This isn’t Chico after all. But can our default state be one where we go with the flow more frequently than against it? Are we more calming than shit-disturbing in our daily interactions? Can we reduce the instances when we make a statement, express an opinion, and have to be right?

Yes, I know I missed a few critical areas. For example Ms. Clinton – lest you think I’m cutting you any slack, the term “honest” comes to mind. But for now, this is my list. What’s yours?

Our presidential candidates will hopefully discuss their vision to address the most pressing global opportunities and challenges we face. But at the same time, among those of us including but not limited to the 538, it’s not just about the big things but the seemingly littlest of things. This includes offering someone a hearty congratulations when it’s the absolute last thing you may want to do. And that’s something you can take to the bank.

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