Nelson Mandela, in news and commentary about his death, is referred to as a man of great character as if that were the best way to describe him, and it well may be. But what does “man of great character” actually mean.
Let’s begin with “a person of good reputation, of good qualities, a person you would recommend or would want to be with.” By all accounts, those who knew Mandela throughout his adult life would say those qualities described him well.
An organization called the Josephine Institute for Youth Ethics offers a list of six measures of character which often are taught in school. They include:
- Trustworthiness — Be honest, don’t deceive, cheat or steal. Be reliable, do what you say you’ll do. Have the courage to do the right thing. Build a good reputation. Be loyal.
- Respect — Treat others with respect, follow the Golden Rule. Be tolerant and accepting of differences.
- Responsibility — Do what you are supposed to do. Plan ahead. Persevere. Keep on trying. Always do your best. Use self-control. Be self-disciplined. Before you act, consider the consequences. Be accountable for your words, actions and attitudes.
- Fairness — Play by the rules. Take turns and share. Be open-minded. Listen to others. Don’t take advantage of others or blame others.
- Caring — Be kind. Be compassionate and show you care. Express gratitude. Forgive others. Help people in need.
- Citizenship — Do your share to make your community better. Cooperate. Get involved in community affairs. Stay informed. Vote. Be a good neighbor. Obey the law.
Reading this list, how many of us could or would say we were of great character along the lines of Nelson Mandela? Could you lead your country out of one of the most repressive environments in history by the strength of your character?
I’m pretty sure I couldn’t. Thank goodness there are Nelson Mandelas around who can do that.