When I was a teenager, I moved from a small, community oriented school to a large, bullring of boys. It was a leap into the big, real and rough world. I was joined by a mixed crew of newcomers. There was the worldly expatriate, the Korean, the first black pupils and the religious seminary graduate. There was also Richard, a quirky, gangly kid who tried a little too hard to shock and ingratiate himself to us through his wacky humour. He was a joker, and no one took him too seriously.
Six weeks into the school year, while he was attending church, an unspeakably cruel gang of political activists attacked his small, suburban congregation at dusk. In a split moment, Richard became a hero. He must have registered the source of danger quicker than most, and instead of collapsing to the floor between the pews, he lay his torso over the person next to him, and took the full hail of grenade shrapnel. In that final moment of his life his truest self stepped forward and changed a person’s life forever. His character shone through and I think of him often for that.
It seems that a crisis presents the most likely test of our characters and could be the taps threatening to run dry in Cape Town, or a marital breakdown, or the fear of failure and financial ruin. In such crises, I have observed the best and worst of people’s character.
In essence, our character is the combination of our ethical/moral compass, our integrity and judgement. A person with an inherently good and gracious character thinks of the greater good, and how their judgement and decisions influences that common good. Mostly, character is about what we do when no one is watching, that is the true measure of our integrity, and combined with a sense of a greater moral good, we can demonstrate our moral and ethical guidance through the way we act and behave.
So when I hear of people defending their right to splash and waste their expensively drilled bore hole water, I wonder whether they have considered the greater good. I hope they realise that with with each litre removed from our groundwater, we need more rain to fill that below ground reservoir so that river run off at surface level can actually carry water to our dams. Throughout the water crisis there have been skirmishes at water points, blame games at political level, and selfishness, but there have also been people who have stockpiled water for their indigent neighbours, shared their bore hole access and filtration, and are doing all they can to save every drop they use in their homes. It’s a telling time to reveal the character of ourselves, our families, our communities and cities. And we have yet to reach a true crisis point.
Based on your responses to a crisis, or pressure and overwhelming fear, what have you learnt about your true self? And whose life have you been able to positively shift in these trying times, other than your own?
I believe our future towards health and prosperity will rely on our collective ability to access the best of our character every day.