An Example Of Good Character

Susan Page
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Wednesday - January 17, 2007
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“Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” - Theodore Roosevelt, 26th U.S. president

The Josephson Institute of Ethics has identified what it calls “The Six Pillars of Character”: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. The belief is that these six core ethical values are the foundation of good character and should guide our choices, both as individuals and as a nation.

Judging by this set of criteria, Oprah Winfrey is one of America’s best examples of good character and, of course, its most famous.

I haven’t always been a huge fan of Oprah. Her early shows were a little “Jerry Springer.” But at some point after I quit watching she began building people up rather than showcasing the “screwed up.” She connects with Americans - especially women - in an unprecedented way, earning trust and respect by exemplifying responsibility, fairness, charity and education. She may live like a queen, but her crowning glory is her commitment, both financial and personal, to leaving a lasting legacy of future leaders.

“Education is the way to move mountains, to build bridges, to change the world,” Oprah says, as she opens her new, state-of-theart “Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls” in South Africa. “Education is the path to the future,” she says. “I believe that education is indeed freedom. With God’s help, these girls will be the future leaders on the path to peace in South Africa and the world.” Training girls for leadership in a country where women are given few chances is bold.

Oprah put her money where her heart is.

For years she’s been awarding scholarships to youths with “merit but no means,” and long before her latest “academy” opening, she’s been quietly opening schools worldwide. Then there’s “The Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program” that favors students who promise to give back to their communities both here and abroad.

Watching our newscasts and prime time television, I often wonder about our “national” character. Has virtue given way to vulgarity, civility to silliness? Often, the clear principles I was taught as a child in school, Girl Scouts, church and at home seem lost in the murky waters of the “Everything’s OK, that’s cool, whatever” prevailing attitudes.

Look at the smarmy feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell and Barbara Walters that’s dominated the news. This sandbox slur-fest has exposed a serious lack of character in these corporate, entertainment and media “heroes.“And what does it say about a news media that’s obsessed with a story barely worthy of a Saturday Night Live parody? And what does it say to the world about America?

But we still see our traditional American help-your-neighbor character every time there’s a natural disaster, no matter where it is in the world. Americans - and the U.S. - donating, flocking to the scene, lending a hand, giving comfort and not expecting anything in return. And these are the values we must “live” to our children, who learn far better by example than from a lecture on ethics. And then there are our military troops. They are in a category of one when it comes to character. They even put Oprah to shame.

Oprah says, “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, the ability to triumph begins with you, always.”

She’s right, character starts with the “one.”

Thanks, Oprah, for your example.

(For more on character, go to

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