Which “New Normal?” Crises reveal character, not build it. (EP.218)

Earthquake

Introduction

How long did the sea of American flags that were proudly and defiantly displayed post 9/11 last?

Will the friendliness and kindness that is cropping up here and there in today’s corona world last? Or will the “Me first, forget you.” thinking seen in our politicians, the hoarders and the large groups of people who seem utterly unconcerned about their being a part of spreading COVID-19 be what prevails when we get through this?

Which part of our national character will appear and dominate? Which part of our individual characters will take over? 

That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode. 

Continuing

Let’s start with a repeat of the truth that crises do not build character, crises merely reveal character. People who help others in a crisis, or those who choose to be selfish, did not become that way because of the events at hand; they were already that way. The event simply allowed their character to be revealed. So, how does the underlying character get created? Faith, family and friends come to mind. Plus some teachers and coaches. And great books for those who read. We are not going to develop character from video games, Netflix or osmosis. 

Today’s Key Point: Event-driven responses have a short half-life. The surge of 9/11 “Never forget” lessons and patriotism have died. As have the never forget cries after Pearl Harbor. And, sadly, post the Holocaust. Only character is forever. 

In October of 1989, October 17th, to be exact, I went to the now famous game 3 of the Bay Bridge World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants–two cities connected by the Bay Bridge. The game made (in)famous by a 7.0 earthquake. I took the bus to the stadium, old Candlestick. It was a raucous ride, filled to the brim with fans, some with their faces painted in their team’s colors. Beer coolers abounded–as did claims about who was going to win–and who was going down flaming in defeat. 

At the stadium fans were excited; hey, we were not only at the World Series, but the World Series with our two local teams. Absolute heaven for a baseball fan. The game appeared to be off to a late start; the rumble that we all felt and heard was assumed to be from the fans stomping their feet as we waited. Slowly, it dawned on us that something more serious might be happening. My Sony Watchman TV (yes, they were a thing back then) showed nothing but test patterns for the local stations. We were unaware that the electricity in the stadium had been cut off, so we assumed the lack of announcements meant that there was nothing important to say. Some fans were standing and yelling “Play ball!” Then we saw the players go up into the stands to be with their families. About the time that the umpires went around picking up the bases, as a silent way to tell us that the game was cancelled, people who had portable radios were telling us that the rumble had been a major earthquake. A subdued crowd filed out to take their transportation home. The limousine people, folks who drove and those of us on public transit were all in the same boat: Quiet, thoughtful and nervous. The same bus with the same people had been transformed. Gone was the good natured yelling and ribbing; beer coolers remained closed. The driver stopped for a woman who was waving for us to stop for her, and took her off route to her home. We passed through neighborhoods that had lost power, and wondered about our homes. 

The next day, some of us had power, others did not. Parts of the Marina district of San Francisco were on fire. A span of the Bay Bridge collapsed–with cars on it–and a portion of an overpass collapsed on top of the cars beneath it. Several people died. Traffic jams disappeared as people stayed home. Life changed–people were patient and polite. They looked for ways to reach out to each other. Middle fingers on the road were replaced with friendly waves. 

For three days. Then the traffic and fingers returned. Event-driven responses have a short half-life. Only character is forever.

  1. Okay, Will, what do we need to develop character? A. A moral compass. If you don’t have a solid moral compass that you follow, then nothing else matters. Nothing. You will simply be a cork on the oceans of life, following the changing paths of the tides, currents and waves. I know; I have been there. And I still have to fight to stay with and strengthen my adherence to my moral compass. What are some examples of an effective moral compass? And how do you know? Two things: 1. Your north has to be something born and fueled outside of you–with externally inspired values, goals and checkpoints. The danger is that our own internally generated principles may lull us into a false sense of commitment. There must be an outside entity to learn from, and to act as a touchstone–a place to check in to see how we are handling ourselves. This does not mean that you don’t need to internalize the external teachings and examples; all is certainly lost if you don’t. But it is equally certain that it cannot be just you. 2. That outside entity must be powerful enough to keep you on track even when it is hard. If your north’s power and influence in your life is weak, so will be your adherence to it. My moral compass is Christ and His teaching. Yours may legitimately be different. But it must meet the criteria.

What is your moral compass? How do you use it to develop and maintain your character? Please share your thinking with me and the Revolution 2.0™ listeners and readers–we are interested in learning from you.

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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.

Will Luden
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