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How Content of Character Matters in Today’s World

Sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Gray Concrete Wall

           “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

           While inspiring many people, the famous quote from Dr. King’s speech now triggers debate.

           On one side of the political spectrum, some view the meaning of that line as moving toward a society that recognizes our differences, but how you treat someone would depend upon the integrity of that individual.

           Others view the excerpt as a complete embrace of a color-blind society.

           This is a subjective topic and depends on one’s worldview. That said, no matter what one professes publicly, behavior demonstrates what people genuinely think. How one acts can change depending on the situation, but patterns develop over time.

           A conversation about individual behavior seems outdated today with the mainstream’s focus on group dynamics. 

           Content of character in modern times feels like an attachment to the much-panned “politics of respectability.” If you behave in a decent manner, it will protect you from experiencing unjust treatment.

           Although, the content of one’s character does matter.

Photo by RODNAE Productions:

           Celebrating one’s culture and including it in how you live makes sense. I don’t think anyone disputes that part. However, we tend to get judged on our individual behavior. When you get a job performance review, it’s for the quality of your work, not the group.

           We tend to choose trustworthy people in most relationships, whether friends, intimate partners, or colleagues.

           I don’t think I’ve ever heard a company’s CEO say, “we’re looking for the laziest and most unreliable people to hire.” Few want friends who will betray their confidence or stick a knife in their back when the opportunity arises.

           What people like in their intimate partners is more complicated but in long-term relationships, individuals tend to do best when they share similar values.

           These tendencies lean toward the idea that how one behaves determines the quality of their life. Outliers always exist, so there are circumstances where it does not hold. But, overall, we all know common decency is essential.

           For the most part, we do not return to establishments where we receive terrible customer service.

Photo by Kampus Production:

           Nor do people seek to move into neighborhoods with a bad reputation. A person’s character or environment triggers people to fight, flee or freeze. Getting into the room has specific requirements beyond your control, but staying there depends on your behavior.

           I’m not dismissing group identity’s importance to people, but I’m suggesting that we cannot discard individual conduct.

           Societies will only function appropriately if we have competent and trustworthy individuals in vital positions. No one I know would want a surgeon who could care less about his job. We don’t wish for firefighters who show up to work when it suits them.

           These realities are why we must start with ourselves as it relates to character.

           Can people count on our word? Do we arrive at appointments on time? How often do we mislead our friends and avoid telling the truth?

           The answer to those questions demonstrates your defining qualities as an individual. It is crucial to ensure we act accordingly to leave a legacy worth remembering. As Dr. King wisely stated, that represents the ideal measurement for human beings.

Vertis Williams is a Positive Habits Life Coach and a Mindfulness Trainer. He is a regular presenter at employee and team-development events. Contact him to request more info on his Workshops or on his Coaching Services! Click HERE to Request a Complimentary Habit Coaching Session!

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