Between 1994 and 2002, while living in Studio City, California, I commuted every weekday to Santa Monica, a drive of about 20 miles. I had not yet discovered audiobooks and the countless hours of these commutes were spent listening to various local radio stations. I frequently listened to KNX-1070, a news radio station. This was not talk radio, but round-the-clock news. In between the top news, local news, traffic and weather (together!) reports were short segments on a variety of topics. One of my favorites was Michael Josephson’s “Character Counts” radio essays.
Josephson has an impressive background, very little of which I knew about when I listened to these radio essays. These essays ran on KNX-1070 from 1996 to 2015 when it was dropped. In the six years that I listened to them, I loved them. They provided practical, pragmatic ethics advice that I took seriously at the time, and that I still take seriously today. The radio essays used to be archived online but, sadly, I couldn’t find them anymore.
It seemed to me at the time–and even more today–that these lessons are not taught in schools in any systematic way. Indeed, from what I see of my kids’ schools, this may be deliberate. Kids are taught to pass a test, and the importance of these tests and the grades they produced are such that they seem to encourage unethical behavior instead of real learning.
I remember listening to those radio commentaries that centered around the six pillars of characters–trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship–and figuring out how to apply them in my life. I was not always successful (and that is true today, as well), but I always try. Those pillars provide a standard to live up to, and the essays provided practical examples of situations in which they might occur.
One of my takeaways from these radio essays was that small things mattered as much as big ones. Many discussions of ethics center around big issues or edge cases. But the character counts essays frequently talked about integrity–a wholeness of characters, acting the same way in different situations. Or as I sometimes think of it, not acting differently when nobody is watching. My grandfather used to go around saying that 99% of people were good people. I idolized my grandfather and was (and am) loathe do disagree with him. But experience has modified my perception of my grandfather’s statement. Today I think of it as 99% of people are good people — when someone else is watching.
That’s why little things matter to me and it is these little things in which I see ethical breakdowns more and more. I see people running stop signs in the neighborhood when no other cars are around. I see people leaving shopping carts in the middle of a parking lot instead of returning them to their proper location. These are little things, but they matter because they form a slippery slope to bigger things.
I wish the Character Counts radio essays were still available online somewhere. I think they’d be great little segments to play before sitting down to dinner with the family. We could use them for discussion during dinner and maybe learn something that would stick.
Incidentally, the Character Counts radio essays weren’t the only things I enjoyed on KNX-1070 radio in Los Angeles. Indeed, it was from another commentary on that radio station that I got the idea for my first published story. But you’ll have to wait until next time for that one.
Written on March 21, 2022.
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I was recently listening to a podcast – EconTalk with guest Angela Duckworth, and she and the host has a discussion around whether or not “character” should be taught it schools, and that it had become controversial because people did not agree on what constituted good character and the school’s role in teaching it. Seems a shame – I understand there are arguments about teaching political ideologies. But trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship? If these aren’t universal values to strive for, what are?
Wow, we shared the exact same experience at the same time. I was actually just trying to find some of the essays for my daughter to listen too. I will keep looking
Darrin, Character Counts reached out to me on Twitter and said they are working on getting the radio essays online.