This article was originally published on January 29, 2018. In it, former Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction explains how daily choices shape character.
Everyone has character. A person is not born with character; it is learned. It is not genetic, but it can be taught. It cannot be bought, but it can be earned.
To me, character is how you act when no one is watching.
I heard a story long ago about an old Cherokee who is teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
My experience is that choices made during our lifetime, especially during our youth, have the greatest impact on who we are, what we stand for, and how others view us.
Inside each of us there is an internal struggle between competing interests. One interest is based on selfishness and greed; the other interest is based on honesty, truth, and kindness. Only one will prevail. What we choose will reveal our true character.
If we “feed the good” and strive to do the right thing, even when it is difficult, eventually what were once difficult decisions become easier, and soon they become part of our character.
“Feeding the bad” can create habits that dull our senses, and soon we begin to rationalize decisions that we would previously have never considered. They eventually become part of who we are. They make up our character.
As a young man, I learned a poem by Alexander Pope that still rings in my ears.
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with its face,
We first abhor, then we pity, then we embrace.
Sadly, I have seen this play out many times.
We need poetry like Pope’s to warn us of the perils of vice, and stories like that of the Cherokee grandfather show us the consequences of our daily choices, because all of us are building character. The daily decisions of which wolf to feed define what our character will be.