My daughter Olivia recently interviewed for a job at Hannaford Supermarket.  The person conducting the interview asked her, “Do you always tell the truth?”  What would you have answered?  How would you describe your character?  How would others describe you?

Character is described as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.  Think of the people you work with, live with, and spend time with – what qualities do you most admire?  Traits that come to mind include trustworthiness, integrity and loyalty.  Who doesn’t want to surround themselves with individuals who embody these characteristics?

David McLendon states, “Character, honesty, integrity is the pedestal that determines how much weight a person can sustain.  If your character is the size of a toothpick, you can only sustain a postage stamp.  If your character is as thick as a column, you can sustain a roof.”  Imagine McLendon’s pedestal as a three legged stool representing character, with loyalty as one leg, integrity as another leg and honesty as the third leg.  If you miss one of the legs, the whole stool crashes down.

Back to the interview question Olivia faced – how many of us can claim that third leg of honesty?

My wife and I our 21 wedding anniversary last week.  I thought about it the week before and my friend reminded me the prior day but the morning of our anniversary, I hurried out the door to work before my wife woke up.  I got to the office, became busy with other things and suddenly the phone rang.  Upon answering, my wife blurted out, “Happy Anniversary!”

I paused. She said, “You forgot didn’t you?”  The question that my daughter was asked in her interview flashed through my mind. Telling her that I hadn’t forgotten would save the day.  Just a little white lie – after all I didn’t completely forget, I had thought about it all week and it had just slipped my mind that morning.  I hesitated, squeezed my eyes shut and prepared myself for the repercussions.    “I’m sorry,” I said, “it slipped my mind this morning.”  Fortunately she let me off the hook (thank God for the flowers that I had bought on Monday).  I tell you all this story, not to pat myself on the back, but to emphasize how difficult and painful it can sometimes be to tell the truth.  Even the little white lies can get you into trouble.

Those who think it is permissible to tell white lies soon grow color-blind.

–       Austin O’Malley

In “Everyday Greatness:  Inspiration for a Meaningful Life”, Stephen Covey and David Hatch chronicle another story about truth and character from a 1941 Reader’s Digest:

One day, when I was about five, I told my grandfather a lie.  It was not a very black lie.  My grandfather asked our gardener to bring a long ladder and place it against the front of the roof.  When the ladder was firmly in place he said to the gardener; “Our boy has taken to leaping from housetops.  The ladder is for him to use when he so desires.”  I knew what that meant, for one of the proverbs from our district was: “A lie is a leap from a house-top.”

I brooded in silence.  It was awkward to have the ladder before the front door.  I began to fear that it would be there forever if I did not do something.  I found my grandfather reading a book and I went quietly up to him and buried my face in his lap.  “Grandpa,” I said, “we do not need the ladder any more.”  He seemed very happy.  He called the gardener and said to him: “Take the ladder away at once.  Our boy does not leap from house-tops.”  I will never forget that incident.

– Li Yung Ku as told by Manuel Komroff

Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “What people say, what people do, and what people say they do are entirely different things.”  Telling the truth seems to be a dying characteristic.  People are forgetting that without the third leg of honesty, character crumbles.  As John Maxwell states in his book, Talent Is Never Enough, “The choice to develop strong character may not be the most important one to make the most of your talent.  But it is certainly the most important to make sure you don’t make the least of your talent.”

I can hear the collective sigh from readers now.  Feeling bad about that white lie you told last week when your significant other asked if their pants make them look fat.  Or when your doctor asked if you always watch what you eat.  Understand that I am not writing this to chastise anyone or send you into despair because that white lie has irreparably damaged your character!  I write this to encourage everyone to take your character seriously.  A person’s word needs to mean something.  We need to be able to trust the people with whom we work and live.  Let’s teach our children that telling the truth may not always be the easiest route, but it will only serve to bolster their character.  And bottom line, character is a major part of what makes a person successful.

Author and speaker Margaret Jensen states, “Character is the sum total of all our everyday choices.  Our character today is a result of our choices yesterday.  Our character tomorrow will be a result of your choices today.  To change your character, change your choices.  Day by day, what you think, what you choose, and what you do is who you become.” So what would you have answered given the question – do you tell the truth all of the time?”  Olivia answered something to the effect of, “No, I haven’t always told the truth.”  Her answer must have told something about her honesty and maturity, and yes, character – she is now an employee of Hannaford.