The importance of character

Published 10:06 pm Monday, April 17, 2017

By Joseph L. Bass

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed there would be a time when people would be judged based on their character, not the color of their skin. But what is “character”?

Usually an individual’s character is evaluated based on viewing behaviors that indicate virtues such as empathy, courage, fortitude, honesty and loyalty. Dr. King rightfully assumed that people with the same skin color can have either good or bad character.

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How does a person develop character?

Frederick Douglass stated that character development starts with small children: “It is easier to raise strong children than repair broken men.”

A Nigerian proverb proposes it takes a village to raise a child. The proverb emphasizes that character building is based on what a child observes in the values of family relationships, parental care, self-sacrificing concern for others, sharing and hospitality. The character of children reflects the character of the adults in their community.

Of course, babies are brought into the world in families, and families have the greatest impact on a child’s character development. In my family, my parents, grandparents aunts, and uncles influenced the person I am today. In that mix of relationships my dad and mom had very different impacts on me.

My dad wasn’t present for my first memories of life. He was overseas during World War II. I didn’t know who he was when he came back.

My mom worked while he was away, took a few years off to introduce my two sisters into the world, and then went back to work. Most of the time when I was growing up, my dad worked two jobs.

My dad and I didn’t agree on some social issues, and we had more than a few frank and open discussions about them. But I always knew where he was in terms of his values and actions.

I’m fairly certain he was fired from one of his first jobs after the war because he would not take part in government corruption typical of Oklahoma in those days. I got him fired from his second-from-his-last government job, because I played a major role in a small revolution in the state school system (but that’s another story).

But no matter the situation — up or down young or old, my dad always strived to provide for our family and mold his children to have good and strong character through his values and actions.

His parents were poor and uneducated, because they were part Native American and grew up in the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory.

My dad always worked to provide for us, and he emphasized we should follow the same path in our lives.

Regardless of our DNA, we were told to pursue the opportunities available to us and become educated, hard working, and self-reliant. My parents taught us not to allow ourselves to become dependent on others. If we did that, others would judge us as having bad character and hold us in disrespect.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at