Having Character or Being One
      by Gail Carr Feldman, PhD

When I think of the term "character," I wonder if I want it applied to me as a noun or an adjective. Is it something I wish to have or to be? Would I like to be viewed as a "real character" or as "having character"? In my clearest moments I choose both. I believe that when we grow into our most mature selves we manifest the values, personal integrity, and assertiveness that create success in our work and joy in our relationships.

My sister Judy represents all Six Pillars of Character taught by the national organization Character Counts! Trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, citizenship and caring radiate from her as naturally as rays of light from the sun. The facts speak for themselves. Judy ran off an married at the age of 16. Instead of college, she learned the restaurant business. For 35 years, she worked incredibly long hours waitressing, cashiering, bookkeeping, managing personnel, and somehow managing to raise four daughters. She has nurtured the marriage that wasn't supposed to work for 44 years now. The family restaurants have flourished and women who worked for her years ago have become devoted friends.

"Nobody cares how much you know until
  they know how much you care."
                                        -  Dr. Bernie Siegel

When one of her daughters lay in the hospital in a coma after a near-fatal accident, Judy organized the family into shifts so that Gayle was never alone. When I asked Gayle about that near-death experience and whether she had an awareness of choosing to come back, she told me she'd wanted to stay on that ethereal plane, but knew her family wouldn't let her go. Judy spent over a year devoting her time to Gayle's rehabilitation.

Judy now focuses her enormous energy on helping raise her five grandsons. Her schedule is like that of a summer camp counselor. She organizes and drives the boys to swimming, tennis, team sports, and includes language and art classes for good measure. She makes time to care for friends in need, as over the last two years when her closest friend was dying of cancer.

With all my years of training as a psychotherapist, Judy's wisdom often surpasses my own. She seems invariably to know the right questions to ask and how to let a yeasty silence raise awareness. As surgeon and author Bernie Siegel once said, "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care."