Viewpoint: Correct Choices Build Moral Character

Contributed By From the Church News

  • 20 September 2013

One coach learned more about the character of his star player during the off-season when he spied her running early-morning sprints over and over across the grassy length of a public park until her T-shirt was soaked with sweat. And then she ran some more.

“Character is woven patiently from threads of applied principle, doctrine, and obedience.” —Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve

University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, a convert to the Church, has led the Tar Heels to an almost unthinkable 22 national championships. He has mentored some of the top athletes in the world—witnessing their performances in front of tens of thousands of fans in stadiums across the globe.

But one of Brother Dorrance’s most memorable coaching moments occurred during an off-season when he spied a star player running early-morning sprints over and over across the grassy length of a public park. The young woman trained alone. She had no clue her coach or anyone else was watching her. Still, she continued with her sprints until her T-shirt was soaked with sweat. And then she ran some more.

Perhaps Brother Dorrance learned more about the character of that athlete during her lonesome training session than at any other time in her celebrated and very public soccer career. Her seemingly unseen efforts to improve herself (even as most of her competitors were likely still in bed) revealed her true character. They recall the words of another great coach, John Wooden: “The true test of a man’s [or woman’s] character is what he does when no one is watching.”

One’s character is a valued commodity. A person said to be of high character can hold his or her head high in any company. In a historic speech delivered a half-century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared it was his dream that his “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.”

It has also been said that as “we sow our actions, we reap our habits; we sow our habits, and we reap our characters; we sow our characters, and we reap our destiny” (C.A. Hall, The Home Book of Quotations [1935], 845). Indeed, it is our habits and behaviors—even those exhibited when we, like the athlete, are seemingly alone—that shape and determine our character.

Latter-day Saints seek a life motivated by good thoughts, expressed in good works, and sustained by an inner peace and determination of righteous doing, taught Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Quorum of the Twelve in his October 1974 general conference address:

“The destiny we desire is an inheritance in the celestial mansions prepared by our Savior for the faithful of God’s children.

“We are not born into this world with fixed habits. Neither do we inherit a noble character. Instead, as children of God, we are given the privilege and opportunity of choosing which way of life we will follow—which habits we will form.

“Confucius said that the nature of men is always the same. It is their habits that separate them.

“Good habits are not acquired simply by making good resolves, though the thought must precede the action. Good habits are developed in the workshop of our daily lives. It is not in the great moments of test and trial that character is built. That is only when it is displayed. The habits that direct our lives and form our character are fashioned in the often uneventful, commonplace routine of life. They are acquired by practice.”

Strong character, added Elder Stapley, provides safety during perilous times.

“We need to organize our lives according to gospel principles and chart a right course as we journey toward eternal life.

“In the conduct of our lives we learn that good character-building habits mean everything. It is by such behavior that we harvest the real substance and value of life. The way we live outweighs any words we may profess to follow. …

“Yes, the character required to attain eternal life must be formed in this life with good habits supplying the building material. When the qualities that are desirable in individuals become universal in the people of a nation, that nation also will have character” (“Good Habits Develop Good Character”).

The work of building character through behavior and habit is best conducted and performed in the home, said Elder Wayne S. Peterson of the Seventy.

“It is the place where our actions have the greatest impact, for good or ill. Sometimes we are so much ‘at home’ that we no longer guard our words. We forget simple civility. If we are not on guard, we can fall into the habit of criticizing one another, losing our tempers, or behaving selfishly” (“Our Actions Determine Our Character,” Oct. 2001 general conference).

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught in his October 2010 general conference address that faith plays a role in building good character:

“Faith in the power of obedience to the commandments of God will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is intended to be used. Your exercise of faith in true principles builds character; fortified character expands your capacity to exercise more faith. As a result, your capacity and confidence to conquer the trials of life is enhanced. The more your character is fortified, the more enabled you are to benefit from exercising the power of faith. You will discover how faith and character interact to strengthen one another. Character is woven patiently from threads of applied principle, doctrine, and obedience” (“The Transforming Power of Faith and Character”).

A sterling character, warned Elder Scott, is eroded by transgression. Strong moral character results from consistent correct choices in life’s trials and tests. “This mortal life is a proving ground. How well you meet its challenges determines how strong your character will be. Your faith in Jesus Christ and His teachings fortifies your character.”