Making An Investment In Your Personal Character

“We never know what’s wrong without the pain. Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.”
Isaac Edward Slade, from The Fray.

I heard a very interesting story a while ago, told by Gary Kuzyk, Director of Labor Relations with the City of Hamilton. It so happens that when he started his first job as a young eager lawyer, with a significant student debt, he had dutifully arranged for the student loan repayments to be debited from his bank account. When he observed, however, that the first three payments had not been withdrawn, he called the loan office. After making him wait an interminable length of time on the phone, the clerk came back on the line and sternly announced that his file had been sent to storage and his loan was shown as having been paid in full. She seemed annoyed that he would have put her to the trouble of having to verify something that he must already have known.

Gary then described his reaction in this moment as envisioning himself as the classic cartoon character with an angel on the one shoulder and a devil on the other, each advocating opposite responses. He listened to the angel, and told the clerk that there must have been a mistake, that his loan was indeed not paid. She only grudgingly agreed to pull the file from storage. The bank eventually fixed the mistake, and it took him four years to pay off the loan.

I’ve told this story in a variety of settings since I first heard it. There is always at least one person in every group who tells me that Gary should have thanked the clerk, quickly got off the phone, and been grateful for his good fortune. Gary actually goes on to say that he was indeed grateful for his good fortune – because of the incident, not because of its outcome. Paying that debt may well have been the best investment Gary ever made, because it was an investment not in his chequing account, but in his character account.

In our society is a great vault filled with an inheritance left by those before us – many who died for our freedom. That vault is the bank of opportunity. The men and women who have paved the way to our freedom have given us a promissory note. But without character, we cannot access the account, and the cheque we expect from society will eventually come back marked “insufficient funds” because there is nothing to draw from within ourselves.

Regardless of our economic status, at the end of the day we all must look at ourselves in the mirror. What we see is the result of the decisions we have made. Character – the courage and capacity to meet the demands of reality – is required to make a withdrawal from the account of opportunity. Without personal character, we become spiritually and psychologically bankrupt, unable to access the resources required to meet the demands of existence.

What is your experience of investing in your character? What are the results?