Policy vs. Character: Who Wins?

driveway2

Years ago I had a driveway issue at my house.  It was cracking and sinking.  A real eye sore.  I knew it was going to be expensive to deal with but it was time.  So I began to gather some bids.  It’s interesting how you go about finding people to do things that you don’t have a lot of knowledge about.  In my case, I just began asking around.  I also leveraged the local chamber of commerce, etc.  I got two or three bids back and leaned into the lowest one.  Although my gut said that it probably wasn’t the best way to go – it was  the cheapest and, in addition, the business owner said he was a Christian.

And how is that relevant?

Well, at that time I was a protestant minister – and he knew that.  He said he wanted to do something nice for the “preacher.”  I appreciated that – obviously.  But by saying he was a Christian I assumed it would be safe to go with him…after all…Christians have a policy that they will work hard and do a good job for their customers — right?  And he was the lowest bid…so…he got the job.

From the start the group that came to do the work seemed a bit unorganized.  I had worked out the details with the guy who took my bid – but the crew that showed up did not seem to have gotten word regarding those details.  Let’s just say some retrofitting had to take place because some tearing out had occurred that wasn’t on the agreed bid list.  The biggest issue came when the crew knocked on my door on a Friday afternoon and asked me to pay them before they were finished.  They promised to finish before the end of the day.  They just didn’t want to wait until the next week to get paid.  So I paid them.

You can see where this is going.

They did get finished…mostly.  But there was some finish work that was not done correctly.  I had to call them back out.  They did patch what was not done correctly…but it looked like a patch in my opinion.  I was disappointed.

Fast forward in time – maybe a year or two – a friend of mine is asking for advice on hiring someone to do some work for him.  He happens to be a Christian.  He tells me that he’s got a bid from another “Christian” guy but it just doesn’t feel right to him.  But he’s struggling because, after all, the guy giving the bid should have a set of principles that support him being able to deliver – right?  I laughed.  I told him that when it comes to choosing people to do work for me – I’ll take character over Christianity any day of the week.

Final story.  I promise.  Several years later my mother calls me.  She is needing some work done on her car.  She says that she has gone to the local yellow pages and found some options.  She is leaning toward one mechanic shop because they post the sign of the “fish” on their ad.  I laughed.  My advice to my mother was to “run”.  I encouraged her to speak to her friends – ask who had done good work for them and treated them right – and go there.  To me, when it came to a mechanic, the reputation of character and good work was much more important than saying that you identified with a set of principles…even Christian principles.

So…why these stories?

In recent days I’ve been hearing a new set of arguments surrounding the presidential election.  Implications of “lack of character” are being leveraged on both sides of the race and, if I might say so, rightly so.  Each candidate has found themselves spinning, justifying or outright lying about past actions.  But emerging from these issues has been an interesting proclamation.

Policy is more important than character.

Really?

I’ve got to tell you – this is a bit of a head scratcher for me.

I’m certainly not saying that policy doesn’t matter.  It does.  Policy is your professed code.  It is the platform upon which you say you stand.  Your policy tells those around you about your world view and about how you will tend to make decisions.  All of us have a form of policy (stated or unstated) – politicians, business people, parents, schools, you name it.  Sometimes we link all or part of our policy to religion (like Christian or Muslim) or organizations (like NRA or NAACP) or political parties (like Republican or Democrat) and more.  In most cases our policy is a variation of many of these things – but in all cases the work of clarifying policy has value.

But character is important too.  Character is how we actually represent ourselves when push comes to shove.  How we really are.  No matter who I say I am….my character tells others who I really am and what I really believe.

Referring back to my earlier stories – please know that it is not my intention to just pick on the Christian faith.  I actually call myself a member of it.  Generally speaking I feel that the policies it espouses have value and I identify with them – at least in how I interpret them.  But if I lie about things on a regular basis – and the Christian faith says that I shouldn’t do that – what does that say about my connection or commitment to my stated policy?

Now – just to be clear – I believe that policy can withstand people of lacking character.  Faiths and governments of all kinds have withstood generations of individuals who have lacked character and yet declared themselves faithful congregants/citizens.

Does that mean that policy wins over character?

It is far from unprecedented how leaders impact how policy is shaped in organizations and societies of all kinds.  In my experience leadership absolutely impacts culture.  More specifically, culture drips from the top down.  Therefore policy, and the tone with which it is carried out (be it home, church, business, government, etc.), is directly connected with the character a key leadership propagates.  Policy follows character.  And no matter what policy a leader identifies themselves with, those policies will be shaped out of that person’s character.

Does that mean that character wins?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I offer this parting thought.  I encourage all of us to think harder when it comes to declaring either policy or character is being more important than the other.  Both are intertwined in ways that can’t be undone and to say that one will not be as relevant in how a president leads is wishful thinking.

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