If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around. ~Cowboy Wisdom
Fishing is definitely a solitary pastime. Just you, the rod, line, fly and (hopefully) a big fish. As a result there is a lot of time without the normal daily interruptions to think about things. Some important, some not. This past week I found myself fishing in the desolate and wild landscape of Patagonia, Argentina, with plenty of time to think on the 13 hour flight from London to Buenos Aires and back, as well as during the six days of fishing. It’s called fishing and not catching because catching is few and far between, so lots of time to think.
So being in a more relaxed state of mind than when going about my normal life activities, I suddenly become aware of things that often go unnoticed. And with the US presidential campaign in full swing, the concept of “personal character” was fresh on my mind. (If you have to ask why, then you haven’t been watching the so-called presidential debates).
Since I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, much of my view on a person’s character came from reading the autobiographies of great men and women (Lincoln, Gandhi, Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer, Einstein, Marie Curie) at our local town library and from evenings spent watching TV serials featuring heroes like Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, Tarzan, John Wayne, Audie Murphy and Davy Crockett. Exaggerations and caricatures I agree, but none the less, clear examples of one of the first definitions of the word “character”: the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.
Now days, it seems like the word character is more accurately translated as “exaggerated traits or a ridiculous but amusing person; a clown”. Just watch the antics of Donald Trump during his campaign speeches, or follow the tabloid behaviour of the Kardashians or any number of “popular” celebrities of the day.
Two Examples of Character
So, here I am at a rustic lodge on the windy and arid steppes of southern Patagonia, over a 100km from the nearest paved road, with fishermen from Spain, Argentina, the US and the UK, along with a number of local Argentinian guides. Plenty of opportunity to fish and observe “character”.
Two actions stood out for me that bring home the importance of character and those people we want to have as friends and companions in life, and those we don’t. Let me describe them.
The first exhibition of character came late one afternoon at the end of a hard day of fishing in nearly gale force winds with temperatures hovering around 3° C (37 F). My guide for the week is a young (mid-20’s) Argentinian from the north who spoke little English, but in every way a person of strong moral and social character. He spent the entire day helping me change flies, untangle knots in my line, helping cook lunch in a hut over coals, even picked me up from a fall on slippery rocks and dunking in the ice-cold lake. Not a great day of catching either. I was cold, tired and looking forward to a shower, fireplace and a large Scotch as we drove back from the lake over the rough gravel road. All I wanted was to get to the lodge in a hurry.
All at once my young guide stopped the pickup, opened his door and ran about 10 yards up the road. I just sat and watched. Somehow he had spotted female Ground-Tyrant (small insect and seed eating ground bird) and a brood of about six baby chicks in the middle of the road. They are tiny and grey in colour and blended in with the rocky road to make them almost invisible. I didn’t even see them! Anyway, he gently shooed them off the road, and even went back to look, finding two more chick hiding among the stones, which he carefully escorted to their waiting mother. Then he got back in the truck and we drove on. He said nothing. Just a natural act of character from someone who cares.
The other event concerned two guest fishermen at the lodge. One spent most of the evening complaining in my ear about the wine, the condition of the accommodations, the long-winded tales from the lodge owner, and a dozen other faults (from his point of view). A second guest, quiet and well-mannered, stood up after each meal, thanked the lodge owner and the cook, and helped clear away the plates. Both were paying guests.
Reflecting on these events and others in my life, it is easy to see that character is about actions, not words. I hope the American public recognize the difference when they go to the polls this November.
Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases. ~John Adams
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!