Character, not strategy, defines the person

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2004 at 11:06 p.m.

Watching politicians, we're skeptical of the proverbial baby kissing.

Some of it seems real, though; and, of course, some of it is real. Ironically, an actor can seem more natural than somebody who's sincere, but ill at ease.

How do we know when the behavior is flowing from character, rather than coaching?

We simply wait for the winds to rage. In politics and in love, unexpected pressure leaves little time for strategy, and demands that character show up - ready or not. So, don't lock in your vote before pressure has done its bidding.

"In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do," says Stephen R. Covey.

We are lured by sweet words and deeds. We instinctively appreciate them. But that needn't stop us from seeing beyond them.

He (or she) is not his conversation and behavior. He is what produces them. He is what drives them. That's what you want to see. That's what you want to get to know.

When he (or she) kisses the baby - or you - see the kiss for what it is. And see him for what he is. Don't ignore what he wants you to see, but don't stop at it, either.

If you want to see more than he wants you to see, it may be a problem. But it's not your problem.

Be discerning. Is the kiss a spontaneous expression of his reverence for life, his joy in affection? Or is it a contrived move for the cameras? You might wonder if it matters - but I can tell you that one feels better than the other.

When she (or he) lays out a romantic dinner, enjoy it. Before you repeat it, though, ask yourself if you enjoyed her as well as the dinner. If you did, see if you can enjoy her on another evening, when she's not trying to impress you.

See if you can also enjoy canoeing with her - even when the canoe tips. You might be thinking that canoes don't really tip, but they do.

And it's important to see what happens when they do, because what happens is character. I (with what I believe to be the help of my rowing partner) tipped a canoe the other day - twice!

The first time, I surprised myself by almost crying as I groped for our belongings and slung them onto the bank. I was as concerned about littering the river as I was about recovering our stuff.

My partner was concerned about emptying the canoe of the water that filled it. He felt responsible and wanted to restore safety. Our lives weren't really in danger, though. I wanted to restore order.

And there we were - moving down the river again, safely and orderly, when somehow we tipped a second time! This prompted a review of our techniques and our canoe.

But it doesn't really matter that we managed to tip the canoe twice. What matters is how we responded. Jeans and sweatshirts are uncomfortable when they're dripping with cold spring water, but they can be wrung out. Cell phones die when they are repeatedly immersed, but they can be replaced.

You might be attracted to somebody who knows exactly what to say and do. But it doesn't matter how attractive somebody's words and behavior are if he is unattractive.

Choose somebody you can trust when the pressure is on. Choose somebody whose disposition can survive a bout with the elements when an act of man - or God - tips your canoe.

Anybody can kiss a baby for the camera. Let's see what happens when the baby spits up.

Jan Denise Soroka is a columnist, author and speaker based in Florida. She invites comments and questions through e-mail at; or visit her Web site at

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