Tag: character

Character Counts Commentaries

two people shaking their hands
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

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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The Wright Brothers

Last week I read The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. I’ve always enjoyed McCullough’s books (his John Adams is my favorite biography and I’ve read the book 3 times). That said, I’ve avoided The Wright Brothers because I thought to myself what else could I learn about the Wright Brothers that I don’t already know?

Well, I’m glad I read the book because it turns out I knew virtually nothing about the brothers. The book centers on the 10 years that they were developing the first airplane, and I found it fascinating. But perhaps more than anything else, I found in the Wright brothers a set of characteristics that I look for and admire in people. Indeed, they have become role models for the kind of behavior I wish to emulate.

Biographies fascinate me because people surprise me. I most admire those people that appear to be hard workers, in part because hard work can offset nature (hard work can make up for lack of genius, for instance), and nurture (hard work can overcome background circumstances for which a person has little control). I also admire integrity, and the appreciation of learning and knowledge. It is no surprise, therefore, that John Adams is my favorite president: he was an incredibly hard worker, had almost unquestioned integrity, and used his accumulated learning for the benefit of the country. (Note that I don’t say I think Adams was the best president, just my favorite.)

Reading McCullough’s biography of the Wright brothers, I saw in both Orville and Wilbur, 5 traits that are among those that I most try to emulate (with admittedly mixed success):

  1. They were hard workers. They never shied away from work, but welcomed it, preferring to perform the most menial and most difficult tasks themselves rather than have someone else do it.
  2. They were self-starters. They found something that interested them, wondered about it, asked questions, and then proceeded to explore it without waiting for the prodding of others. They financed their work from the profits of their bicycle shop rather than look for investors elsewhere and because of that, they had complete control over their explorations.
  3. They were methodical and detail oriented. They were not rushed. They began with small simple explorations of birds in flight, and gleaned what they could from that. They worked in slow, steady increments. They were not trying to revolutionize the world overnight. The invention of the airplane was not a race. They made mistakes frequently and learned from them. They spent time studying their subject, learning everything they could about it until they were unquestioned experts in the field.
  4. They were self-confident without being arrogant. Even after their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, most people around the world believed their achievement a hoax. This didn’t bother the brothers. They knew it wasn’t and they had confidence in their abilities and knowledge. They didn’t complain, calmly going about improving upon their work, knowing that eventually, people would see the plane flying for themselves.
  5. They were even-tempered and humble. They didn’t take offense easily, in part because of the confidence they had in themselves and each other. They were willing to learn from mistakes and be corrected.

There are other traits I admire, but these five are rare to find in a single person, let alone two brothers. Even John Adams lacked some of them (especially 4 and 5). They are traits that I have for decades been striving for, but falling short in various ways that occasionally frustrate me. Seeing them all in a pair of brothers, though, gave me hope. I’ll never come close the success that the Wright brothers had in terms of their inventiveness. But it would be nice to think that I have a target I can use to approach their character.

Character counts 10 year anniversary interview

I’m a big fan of Michael Josephson’s “Character Counts” essays on KNX 1070 in Los Angeles. The daily essays on ethics and character are a breath of fresh air compared to most news programming out there. Recently, these essays have reached their 10th anniversary.

Tomorrow, at 11 AM Pacific (2 PM Eastern), there will be a one-hour long interview with Michael Josephson on KNX 1070 in L.aA. For those of you no longer living in L.A., you can listen to the interview (as I will) on the live feed at http://www.knx1070.com. Click on the “Listen Live” button once you get to the site to listen to the program.

The Guy In the Glass

I came across this great verse while reading the lastest Character Counts commentaries that I receive each Thursday in email. The verse is by Dale Wimbrow, and was written in 1934. (For more info, see his website.)

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your Father or Mother or Wife
Who judgment upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

The Cold Within

My weekly newsletter containing this weeks radio commentaries on “Character Counts” by Michael Josephson had a commentary on racism and hate, which contained a verse by James Patrick Kinney called “The Cold Within”. I’d never seen the verse before, but after hearing it, I decided I liked it. (It’s not free verse, so that might have helped.)

Read the poem

The junk food lawsuit

While eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Caffine Free Coke (TM) and chocolate brownie for lunch, I came across a news item on Yahoo! reporting that Nickelodeon and Kellogg were the targets of a lawsuit which cites a “recent report documenting the influence of marketing on what children eat”. You can link to the article here.

This is one of those lack-of-accountability suits like the person who sues McDonalds for gaining weight eating their food. This kind of thing drives me nuts for some reason. It’s a tricky thing to comment on, however, because it deals with obesity, which is a touchy subject for some people. Studies have shown that some people are more genetically prone to weight gain than others. But this is a tendency and while it may require some to be more disciplined than others, the bottom line on law suits like these is still accountability.

It seems to me the whole claim of the argument is that, when it comes to food, kids listen to their TV more than they listen to their parents:

Wakefield, Mass., mother Sherri Carlson said she tries her best to get her three kids to eat healthy food. “But they turn on Nickelodeon and see all those enticing junk-food ads,” Carlson said. “Adding insult to injury, we enter the grocery store and see our beloved Nick characters plastered on all those junky snacks and cereals.”

Correct me if I am wrong, but is this person arguing that her kids are so influenced by these ads, that she, the mother, is simply forced to go out and buy the junk food for her hopelessly influenced kids?

Now, I don’t have kids of my own, but I was once a kid, and sometimes, I like to think I still am a kid. If I begged and pleaded for junk food, and my mom or dad gave into me, the behavior I’d learn from that is that no self-control is required. I can just beg and plead for my junk food, and ultimately, I’ll get my way. My folks will cave in under the enormous pressure that me and my allies in the advertising industry place upon them.

What has happened to accountability in this country?

Maybe the right question to ask is: why are parents going after Nickelodeon and Kellogg? What do they expect to get out of this? I think there are two answers here: (1) publicity and (2) money, not necessarily in that order. This is about more than a parent’s concern for their child’s eating habits. It seems to me that if parents were really concerned, they wouldn’t hire a lawyer, they would instead find creative ways to make healthy snacks more enjoyable for kids. It’s not that hard to do, and you can see the results pretty quickly.

This is a slippery slope. Parents pawn of the responsibility to educate their children about nutrition and health to the very television set which they sit they kids in front of to babysit them. Nickelodeon and Kellogg are not forcing anyone to do anything. Are they putting ideas into kids heads? Sure. Are they putting pressure on parents to buy kids junk foods. Certainly. But who is ultimately responsible for going out and buying that candy bar? I’m not sure anyone could convince me it’s Nickelodeon and Kellogg.

Where does this lead? Will parents soon start suing other parents who allow their children to eat junk food at school because it sets a bad example for their children? This sounds facecious but I’m not kidding. Law suits scare people, and especially institutions like schools. Will schools start to ban junk foods, even in lunches brought by students because they will be afraid of the influence it might have on other students? Will we start to evolve legal definitions for “junk food”?

Unfortunately, things can only get worse with this kind of mentality. We are teaching children that there is no need to think for themselves. There are some smart kids out there. They see that junk food is bad for you in excess. They make the very rational generalization that anything is bad for you in excess. And they grow up to be well-adjusted adults. But not all kids have an equal footing when it comes to critical thinking, so the playing field now has to be leveled to the lowest common denominator. At the very least, let us not be hypocrites. The more we lower the expectations of our kids and ourselves, the less we should expect.

I can see the future now, and it is all gray. No one thinks for themselves, no one questions, no one cares.

If parents really wanted to tackle the obesity problem in this country, they wouldn’t sue a TV station and cereal company. They’d set their jaws, plant their feet, and do what my parents did when I was growing up and wanted to eat junk.

They’d just say No.