“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln said that. And, nothing will test a person’s character more than the face of poverty during the holidays. Odd that I should say that, but making a decision about poverty has in itself a kind of power.
So here you are toddling down the road in your nice new car and you come upon a man huddled on the street with nothing, absolutely nothing but a sign that says, “Need food. Please give,” and he’s asking for anything… money, clothes, food… Whatever you can give him. You may even be hoping you’ll be able to just look straight ahead and not get caught by a red light next to his begging spot, but low and behold you do get caught! He’s right there and you’re right there! And, the following banter blows through your head in a matter of seconds… “What to do! Ignore? Roll down the window and give him food? No! Give him a ten spot or twenty? Yeah that… And a bottle of water!” So you do. You give this guy twenty dollars and an unopened bottle of water. You’re feeling pretty good about what you just did, til you happen to see in your rear view mirror, a woman drive up in a nice new car dressed to the nines… She takes your twenty dollars, the two smile and talk, and off she goes with your money and quite a lot more in a big bag.
Now this really tics you off, and at the same time makes you think, “What the heck just happen!” So you make a u-turn and follow the woman at a reasonable distance and watch her stop and take money from another beggar! “What the HECK” you say to yourself. And, again you follow her car and watch her do the same thing five more times before heading to a really nice house in the suburbs where she gets out with your Twenty dollars along with so many other peoples’ money… And, in she goes with all that loot! “WHAT THE HECK!”
That’s it! Christmas or not you’re reporting this woman to the police! So off you go to the closest police station. You give the authorities all the information: Your guy that took your twenty and what street corner he’s on, the other street corners and then the house where a woman in a nice car got out and went in with all your money, and vivid descriptions of each person and her car. The authorities thank you for your report and you leave the police station feeling good that you’ve nabbed some people who’ve been taking advantage of good citizens, of which you count yourself as one. I mean you feel really good! The power of the law has strengthened your belief in the system and it seems that all is right with the law and life. But no.
The long of arm of the law still needs you… So now, with such a very few days left to shop for your Christmas gifts, you’ve been called in to identify these people in a line up! What?! “This is insane,” you think… “I’m the good guy and I’m getting punished by sacrificing my personal time for this line up!” But you go, and you identify them only to get a call later in the week that you’ll be required to come to court and testify at their trial! “When,” you ask. And, you’re told that a date isn’t set but don’t go anywhere because they’re hoping to rush this along. Now you have to go home and inform the wife and kids that there will be no trip to Disneyland after all, since you have to be around to testify! The kids are really unhappy. So you suggest that the wife and kids go as planned and you’ll come if you can (which you know will never happen, right?).
As you wave them off to Southern California, there you stand all alone for having done the right thing, cooperating with the courts to do more of the right thing. The power of the law is really testing you, isn’t it? (Well if I were that guy, it certainly would be testing me.) But the case does go to court early and you do testify first and are excused. Off you go to meet up with your family… There in the land of dreams fulfilled, you and the wife and the kids enjoy a wonderful week. You get home only to find your house has been ransacked. Is this an accident? The police say it’s probably retribution for the “good deed” you did. Everyone in the family feels violated, but the insurance does cover your loses even though your home owners insurance goes up. Ouch! But you recover. And the year passes without incident.
Then it’s the Christmas Season again… You see this guy (a different guy) begging on the corner; and of course the light turns red and you’re stuck right next to this guy… It all comes flying back to you, including those raging thoughts of “What to do! Roll down the window and give him money? Give him a ten spot…” Amen and hallelujah! It happens. Lesson learned. Down goes your window and you give him an unopened bottle of water and the business card of an acquaintance who’s hiring for the holidays. You smile and off you go… Because sometimes, the words of that poem by Edgar Guest are oh-so-true….
I do not think all failure’s undeserved,
And all success is merely someone’s luck.
Some men are down because they were unnerved,
And some are up because they kept their pluck.
Some men are down because they chose to shirk,
Some men are high because they did their work.
I do not think that all the poor are good,
That riches are the uniform of shame.
The beggar might have conquered if he would,
And that he begs the world is not to blame.
Misfortune is not all that comes to mar,
Most men themselves have shaped the things they are.
– Edgar A. Guest, Success and Failure
In closing let us consider what kind of power we each have to be successful and to help others. Let us further consider what shapes our lives and how each of us is to be remembered. Guest says a lot about character in the face of powerful moments; so does Abraham Lincoln.
May your choices enrich your lives and your legacies!
Carolyn Thomas Temple