A Test of Character

In the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, there’s a scene where a lieutenant is talking to Admiral James T. Kirk, after the young officer had just had a disastrous outcome on a simulated mission known as “The Kobayashi Maru.” When she asks the admiral about the right way to solve the problem, he says, “It’s a no-win scenario – there is no ‘right’ solution. It’s a test of character.”

I like that answer.

The idea of good character – what it means, how it reveals itself – is something that I’ve thought about a lot. Someone has said, “Character is who you are when no one is watching.” Character, or the lack thereof, is demonstrated by how we behave in our unguarded moments. It rises to the top during times of crisis and shows itself in ways large and small in our everyday actions.

And it has nothing to do with politics or religion. I’m sorry to say that many of our national leaders – as well as a lot of ministers that I have known personally over the years – show themselves to be sniveling cowards who will absolutely collapse like a house of cards during difficult times and sell their souls for the sake of trying to gain power or hold on to popularity. And others rise above the chaos and tumult to show unbreakable, unshakeable, strong character – “tested and approved,” as the scriptures say. Telling the truth, doing the right thing, standing up and speaking out on behalf of the marginalized, the downtrodden, the forgotten. Where are the people who will speak up for them?

I was doing some reading about this the other day, and I ran across an interesting column online somewhere; unfortunately, I did not write down the author’s name, and I haven’t been able to find it again. But I think this writer really catches the essence of what it means to be a person of good character through some unusual questions, and I wanted to pass it along to you. Now, as I say, this self-test is a little different, but if you ask yourself these questions and are honest about your answers, it may reveal something about your character.

1. How do you treat wait staff in restaurants and others who work in the hospitality industry?

Three of our four kids have or still are working in coffee shops, restaurants, bars, etc. The horror stories they tell about how they have been treated are absolutely shameful. And the worst perpetrators always seem to be the good, church-going folk with all the “I love Jesus” and “Follow me to church” bumper stickers on their cars, but who curse at the drive-through staff and are so unbelievably abusive and rude. A restaurant manager once told my son that it was almost impossible to staff the Sunday lunch schedule, because nobody wanted to work the after-church shift. They were rude and demanding, and absolutely terrible tippers. But they were perfectly happy to leave a tract about grace on the table, instead of an actual tip. Character is seen in how we treat the people who are serving us.

2. How do you relate to children?

Jesus told his followers, “Allow the little children to come to me and don’t forbid them, because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.” This shocked to the disciples, because children are powerless. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t take care of themselves. They are dependent on their parents for everything. Kind of like us and God, actually. People of good character are those who will put an arm around a little shoulder and tell a kid, “You matter to me. You can do this. I believe in you.”

3. How do you relate to animals?

Proverbs 12:10 says, “Good people take care of their animals but the wicked are cruel to theirs.” How we care for critters reveals a lot about our relative levels of selfishness versus character. That’s especially true for animals that we don’t own and don’t plan to have for lunch. It’s true that God feeds the sparrows. But sometimes, we get to help.

4. How do you deal with shopping carts?

Okay, I grant you, this is a very strange question, but think about it – how do you handle shopping carts in the parking lot? I mean, there’s no penalty for not bringing the cart back to the door or not putting it in the cart corral, and there’s no bonus for returning the cart. The only reason for doing it, is because you care about someone else. You don’t want the cart that you just used to be in someone else’s way while they’re trying to park, or you don’t want the kid who’s gathering up all the abandoned carts to have to walk an extra mile to retrieve them. What we do with our shopping carts after we’re done with them is a real gauge of how concerned we are for and about other people.

And that’s a proper test of character.

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