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Where I Come From We Judge People by the Content of Their Characters

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Character: The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

After having served in the U.S. Army for 23-years I have learned to judge individuals by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.

I served in a military where men of all colors swore an oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. Those with whom I served, and all those who have served honorably, are my brothers for he who sheds his blood with me is forever my brother.

As an officer, and commander of multiple units, I was responsible to judge the characters of those who served under me. I had the authority, under Article 15 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, to be the judge, jury and punisher of those soldiers who broke military laws and regulations. Just as I was subject to the same codes, laws and regulations.

Having served in combat I know about the content of others, and my own, characters. There is nothing like the heat of battle to bring out both the best and worst in men, and now women, in our military.

Understanding the character of individuals is a fundamental key to effective leadership.

Sadly today, character has taken a backseat to the color of one’s skin.

Today:

  • If you are white you are automatically labeled a racist.
  • If you are black you are automatically given a free pass on the content of your character.
  • If you are neither white or black, you are considered to be irrelevant or marginalized.

In a column titled “The Vague Grounds of ‘Systemic’ Racism” David Carlin asks:

Is “systemic racism” real?  Or is it an abuse of language, stretching the meaning of the word “racism” beyond its legitimate bounds?

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s first recorded utterance of the word racism was by a man named Richard Henry Pratt in 1902. Pratt was railing against the evils of racial segregation.

Segregating any class or race of people apart from the rest of the people kills the progress of the segregated people or makes their growth very slow. Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism.

Racism has become a construct that has been turned into an effective weapon used by some to create racial division both in America and globally.

Their goal isn’t to unite Americans but to divide us. Their goal isn’t to unite the world it’s to divide it.

A divided people are easily manipulated and controlled.

It is an easily used word to win an argument with someone whom you disagree with. If you want to shut down any discussion with a white, black, Hispanic, oriental or American Indian then just call him or her a “racist.”

Racism is the ultimate political club.

When we judge people by what they do, by their character, then we are judging outcomes, not the color of one’s skin. Do good, do well and you are contributing to yourself, your family, your community, your state and the nation.

Do badly and you harm yourself and others.

You see, character has a moral basis. It is a religious construct.

1 Corinthians 15:33 warns,

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

Character is a choice between doing good or doing evil.

Without character what are we but mere animals?

How do you judge people?

Where I Come From by Alan Jackson

©Dr. Rich Swier. All rights reserved.

Failure Made Disney Great by Lawrence W. Reed

December 15, 2016, will mark the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney’s passing. Half a century later, I vividly recall the intense sadness I felt when I learned, at age 13, that he had died. It was as though I had lost a close member of the family. I doubt that I ever missed a single episode of his television show. I can still hear his avuncular voice in my head as if he had spoken to me just yesterday. I can’t think of a single movie he made that I haven’t seen and enjoyed immensely, multiple times.

What a phenomenal man Walt Disney was! A cartoonist and animator, businessman, filmmaker, theme park pioneer, and cultural icon, he may have manufactured more happiness in the world than any other man or woman of the 20th century. He was an American original and an American patriot, too. He deeply appreciated that liberty in America allowed him to invent, experiment, and ultimately succeed, as evidenced in this remark three years before his death: “To retreat from any of the principles handed down by our forefathers, who shed their blood for the ideals we still embrace, would be a complete victory for those who would destroy liberty and justice for the individual.”

The characters Disney and his colleagues created or popularized boast names that billions of people still know today: Mickey Mouse, Jiminy Cricket, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Three Little Pigs, Peter Pan, Bambi, and Cinderella, to name only a few. His films include so many that are unforgettable — it’s no wonder he remains the record-holder (a total of 59) for both Oscar nominations and actual wins. Hundreds of millions of people have been enthralled by the movies that featured those characters, as well as by other Disney flicks like Old Yeller, The Absent-Minded Professor, Mary Poppins, Sleeping Beauty, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. His company’s representative song, “When You Wish upon a Star,” evokes smiles from all ages in 2016, just as it did when Disney unveiled it way back in 1940.

Some people think that entrepreneurs build, innovate, and take risks just for the money they might make. To the imaginative Walt Disney, money was never the prime motivator. Not even close — though what could be wrong about that if it had been? Money paid the bills, but he hired his brother Roy to worry about it. Walt was driven by the sheer joy of creativity and the fulfillment that comes from bringing happiness to others. “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” he once said. These words from his dedication speech at the July 1955 opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, encapsulate his amazing spirit:

To all who come to this happy place, Welcome! Disneyland is your land. Here, age relives fond memories of the past … and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America … with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

No one could do justice to the life of Walt Disney in a short article, so I won’t even attempt to. Allow me to zero in on one particular aspect that underscores why he’s a hero: he knew failure and how to learn and prosper from it. As he put it himself, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me.… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

In “The Importance of Failure” (Freeman, November 2011), economists Steven Horwitz and Jack Knych explained that permitting failure is just as important as allowing success:

For example, in 1921 Walt Disney started a company called the Laugh-O-Gram Corporation, which went bankrupt two years later. If a friend of Disney or the government hadn’t let him fail and move on, he might never have become the Walt Disney we know today.

More important than this individual learning process is the irreplaceable role failure plays in the social learning process of the competitive market. When we refuse to allow failure to happen, or we cushion its blow, we ultimately harm not only the person who failed but also all of society by denying ourselves a key way to learn how best to allocate resources. Without failure there’s no economic growth or improved human well-being.…

To the imaginative Walt Disney, money was never the prime motivator. 

Failure drives change. While success is the engine that accelerates us toward our goals, it is failure that steers us toward the most valuable goals possible. Once failure is recognized as being just as important as success in the market process, it should be clear that the goal of a society should be to create an environment that not only allows people to succeed freely but to fail freely as well.

Disney heard a lot about failure at the family dinner table before he ever failed himself. His father, Elias, tried twice to be a successful orange grower in Florida but couldn’t make it work. He flopped as a professional fiddle player in Colorado. He didn’t do much better farming in Missouri. Elias tried a lot of things to keep his family fed. That he never quit trying left a deep impression on young Walt.

Before he was 20, Walt Disney had to make several adjustments in his career. He drove an ambulance in France for a time, but when he returned to the United States, he couldn’t find a similar job. He decided to be an actor, then changed his mind in favor of drawing comic strips for newspapers. No luck there, either. Roy found him a job at a bank, but Walt didn’t find the work satisfying. From there, in 1921, he started his first company, the soon-to-go-bankrupt Laugh-O-Gram Corporation. Unable to pay his rent, he even ate dog food until he could get back on his feet.

In 1926, Walt’s prospects suddenly brightened with an animated series centered around a character he created, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, but his luck ran out two years later when he lost the rights to Oswald to Universal Studios.

Stephen Schochet, author of Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes about the Stars and Legends of the Movies, notes some of Disney’s later misfortunes, big and small:

When Walt tried to get MGM studios to distribute Mickey Mouse in 1927 he was told that the idea would never work — a giant mouse on the screen would terrify women.

The Three Little Pigs was rejected by distributors in 1933 because it only had four characters; it was felt at that time that cartoons should have as many figures on the screen as possible. It later became very successful and played at one theater so long that the poster outside featured the pigs with long white beards.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was sneak previewed to college students in 1937 who left halfway during the film causing Disney great despair. It turned out the students had to leave early because of dorm curfew.…

For the premiere of Pinocchio Walt hired 11 midgets, dressed them up like the little puppet and put them on top of Radio City Music Hall in New York with a full day’s supply of food and wine. The idea was they would wave hello to the little children entering into the theater. By the middle of the hot afternoon, there were 11 drunken naked midgets running around the top of the marquee, screaming obscenities at the crowd below. The most embarrassed people were the police who had to climb up ladders and take the little fellows off in pillowcases.

Even after Disney scored international fame for his film making, not all of his films made money. Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Pollyanna, for example, were all box office flops at first. Undaunted, Disney faced each disappointment by planning his next adventure.

“A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there,” he said. “With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.”

While making movies, he found time for another challenge. It was literally in his own backyard, where he designed and built a miniature, half-mile-long steam railroad. The locomotive was big enough for him to personally ride on it. The project had its own trestle, overpasses, and even a 90-foot tunnel beneath his wife Lillian’s flowerbed. It inspired the railroad he later built around the perimeter of Disneyland.

Unable to pay his rent, Disney even ate dog food until he could get back on his feet.

Perhaps because he had learned from so many previous failures and disappointments, Disney burned the midnight oil to make his Anaheim theme park dream succeed. It was a financial success from the day it opened. Today, the Walt Disney Company is easily the world’s largest operator of theme parks in terms of guest attendance per year and is a $50 billion firm employing more than 175,000 people.

Walt Disney’s legacy is deeply embedded in our culture and for good reason: he knew how to entertain. He produced lasting and happy memories for people in nearly every nation. And he never, ever quit. His advice to young people is as commendable today as it was when he offered it more than half a century ago, in part because it’s also the way he lived his own life: “Do a good job. You don’t have to worry about the money; it will take care of itself. Just do your best work— then try to trump it.”

For additional information, see:

Lawrence W. ReedLawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

AUTHORS NOTE: This is the final essay in my formal, weekly Real Heroes series, which began in April 2015. I wish to thank the many readers who sent me encouraging notes after reading one or more of my articles that made an impact in some way. It’s a theme I’ll likely return to in this Friday spot with some frequency, though I now welcome the time to write about some other things as well. In the coming weeks, FEE and a publisher will be announcing the details of a mass-market paperback, due for release in bookstores in September, which will present approximately 40 of my Real Heroes essays.

Personal Character Conquers Another Welfare-State Tragedy

On a fateful day he’ll never forget, 18-year-old Lawrence (“Larry”) Cooper, an unmarried black man and high school dropout, found himself on the wrong side of the law. He attempted an armed robbery of a store in downtown Savannah, Georgia. It was April 1987. The cash involved? A mere $80, enough to finance his cocaine habit for less than a day. Larry was caught and sent to a maximum-security prison.

One month after Larry’s arrest, his son was born. The boy wouldn’t see his father outside of a cell until November 2015, when his dad was finally released.

“I wasn’t there to even sign the birth certificate,” Larry told me just a month ago.

These lamentable chapters of the Larry Cooper story are distressingly familiar in America.

Today, incarcerated black American males number about 750,000. That’s more than the entire prison populations of India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel, and England combined. In August 2013, a report from the Sentencing Project on Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System revealed that “one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.”

The leading cause of incarceration of black males is nonviolent drug offenses. This is no accident. As President Richard Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman revealed in a 1994 interview,

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

The next leading causes are false accusations, then crimes against persons, followed by crimes against property. Economist Thomas Sowell argues convincingly, as do many others, that the genuinely criminal behavior — the violations of person and property — have much less to do with racism and poverty than they have to do with the debilitating, family-busting policies of the welfare state. (And it doesn’t help that poor, inner-city families are often trapped in lousy government schools.) Sowell observes,

Murder rates among black males were going down — repeat, down — during the much lamented 1950s, while [they] went up after the much celebrated 1960s, reaching levels more than double what they had been before. Most black children were raised in two-parent families prior to the 1960s. But today the great majority of black children are raised in one-parent families. Such trends are not unique to blacks, nor even to the United States. The welfare state has led to remarkably similar trends among the white underclass in England over the same period.… You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain — without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.

Larry Cooper was one of the statistics, a prime candidate for exhibit A in this national tragedy. But today, he’s well on his way to a life of honor and redemption. Perhaps the jury on him is still out, but I’m betting he’s a hero in the making.

Growing up in Savannah in the 1970s and ‘80s, Larry faced the challenges posed by a broken family.

“My dad had 33 kids with six or seven women,” he informed me in a February 2016 interview over breakfast.

“Mom and Dad separated early, so Dad just wasn’t around. I saw him maybe twice a year.”

As a teenager, Larry started skipping school, stealing, smoking marijuana, and then doing cocaine.

“I dropped out of school when I was 16 and it broke my mama’s heart,” he said. His mother implored him to find employment so he took a landscaping job that lasted only a week before he was in the streets again.

Hanging out with the wrong people, trapped in a vicious circle of using drugs and stealing what he could to afford more — and with only a brokenhearted mother at home to offer any hope at all — Larry was headed for destruction. His poor choices caught up with him two years later with a 10-year sentence for armed robbery. But things would get much worse before they would get better.

Bad behavior, including aggravated assault, earned Larry additional prison time — a grand total of 28 years. He went in at age 18 and emerged at 47. It will be another decade before he can say he’s been a free man for as long as he wasn’t.

“Over the years while behind bars,” Larry says, “I thought more and more about what my mama had told me. She said this would happen if I didn’t straighten up. She prayed hard for me, all the time. She visited me as much as she could. I still remember how bad I felt when she once came to see me but was turned away because I was ‘in the hole’ for bad things I done. But she never gave up on me.”

I asked Larry what the low point of his time in prison was. I expected it might have been a run-in with a guard or another inmate, an ugly incident of short duration.

His answer: “Seven years in solitary confinement.”

Seven years?” I exclaimed.

“Yes, and every day it was the same: one hour out in the yard, 15 minutes in the shower, and then 22 hours and 45 minutes in solitary,” he replied. “At first, I was in despair. But then I started reading and then writing to folks, exercising in my cell and thinking hard about what had happened to me and what was going on in my life. It took those long hours by myself to make me come to my senses and start feeling bad about the people I stole from, all the friends and family I had hurt. Things mama told me finally started to have an effect on me.”

Larry’s mother arranged his baptism when he was a child, but he never made time to read more than a few words of the Bible — or anything else, for that matter. A prison chaplain introduced him to a Bible study course conducted by mail. Larry enrolled and completed it.

“That’s when my life really began to change,” he told me. “Ever since that course, I’ve been a different man. I’ve settled down. I use my brain now. I’m no longer the man I used to be.”

Larry’s personal and spiritual recovery were well underway before I’d ever heard of him. His reading had brought him into contact with ideas of political and economic liberty. He wrote my former place of employment in Michigan, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, asking for more information. My old colleagues there forwarded his letter on to me at FEE, and that began a correspondence that now fills two shoeboxes on a shelf in my home office.

Never before had I contemplated developing a friendship with a man in prison. I wouldn’t know how to begin. If Larry hadn’t taken the initiative to contact me, such an undertaking would never have happened. I now count it as a great blessing in my life.

Larry was much more diligent in writing than I was, I confess with some remorse.

“I had more time on my hands than you did,” he jokes.

But I’m pleased to have helped deepen his understanding of liberty by sending him many books and articles.

“Were there any particular things I sent you that made a big impact?”

Without skipping a beat, he replied, “Yes. One was your book, A Republic — If We Can Keep It and the other was What It Means to Be a Libertarian by Charles Murray.” The reader will excuse me, I hope, if I report this with a smile and considerable pride.

Larry and I corresponded but never spoke by phone until after his release. I was looking forward to the day when I could finally drive down to Savannah to spend time with him. Until we met, I didn’t even know what he looked like, but we embraced as if we were brothers.

We dined at the Bonefish Grill on Abercorn Street, then went to see the fantastic film Race about Olympian Jesse Owens. The next morning, we had breakfast, and I recorded the interview with him that this article is based on before visiting the public library on Bull Street so I could show Larry how to create his first email account.

I learned much from Larry during that breakfast interview. For example, he opposes the drug war from a vantage point I’ve never experienced — from inside prison walls where, he says, “drugs are everywhere.” I asked him where they come from.

“All sorts of ways and places,” he said. “Guys out on work detail get ‘em. People throw ‘em over the prison gate. Guards and officers bring ‘em in.”

Larry’s views on current issues are interesting, but his personal transformation is, to me at least, positively captivating. As the well-known expression puts it, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The sad part of it is that Larry’s mother, one of the few anchors in his life, died just three months before he earned his freedom.

“At first I couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. “She was living for the day I would get out, which was the day after Thanksgiving, 2015. It really hit me at Christmas. At my first Christmas dinner as a free man in 28 years, family and old friends got together. Everybody was there but mama. It took me so many years to realize how important your character is. Thanks to mama and my faith, I’m not going to ever let it slip again.”

The Salvation Army in Savannah is generously providing Larry with a place to live and a church to attend on Sundays as he puts his new life together. He’s working two jobs, one with a prestigious catering service and the other with a local staffing firm that places him in short-term stints at manual labor.

He doesn’t want welfare.

“I try to earn every penny I get,” he asserts proudly. He’s both optimistic and excited about his future. He’d love to start a new family.

“I want to prove to myself that I can be a good independent man and make amends for what I did. I take one day at a time, but my spirits are real good.”

After all Larry’s been through and with freedom so new to him, I suppose there’s a chance of a relapse. Surely there will be occasional bumps on his ongoing road of recovery. I hope I’ve encouraged him and can continue to do so.

There are many lessons here: Strong families and good parenting can make all the difference in the world. Building character for navigating the pitfalls of life is a priceless undertaking you’ll likely never regret. Don’t underestimate the value of a mother who never gives up on a wayward son. Through an inner transformation, in this case facilitated by a spiritual renewal, even the seemingly incorrigible can turn his or her life around. Never miss an opportunity to encourage someone who is clearly trying to do the right thing.

I intend to stay in touch with Larry Cooper. I’ll watch his progress and assist with it if and when I can. He’s already taught me a valuable truth: that heroes aren’t always the ones who make the headlines or the history books. They may just be on the other side of a wall.

For further information, see:

Lawrence W. ReedLawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.