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November 07, 2019 Thursday 12:10:14 PM IST

Challenging Character

Reflections

He was a woodcutter who made a living by cutting firewood from the forest. One day while cutting firewood on the banks of a river, his axe slipped from his hand and fell into the water. The river was deep with strong currents, and the man didn’t know what to do. He was afraid to jump into the water to retrieve his axe. He stood there helplessly. At that moment, he saw a goddess emerging from the water with a golden axe.

“Is this the axe that fell from your hand?” the goddess asked him. “No, it is not,” he replied. The goddess then went back into the river and brought a silver axe to the woodcutter. “Is this the axe you lost in the river?” the goddess asked. “No, it is not,” he replied. The goddess then jumped into the water again and retrieved his axe made of iron.

When he saw his axe, he was relieved and told the goddess that was the axe he lost in the river. The goddess then gave him his axe as well as the axes made of gold and silver. Before he had time to thank her, she disappeared from sight, as the story goes. The goddess was definitely impressed with the character of the woodcutter. He was totally honest and never claimed what was not his own. In fact, he was not tempted by the glitter of gold or silver. He only wanted to regain what he had lost. He was a man of character.

Right and wrong


People with character know how to distinguish right from wrong. They are people with high moral principles. They will never go against truth and justice for their own advantage. However, it doesn’t mean they don’t have any shortcomings or failures in life. They also commit mistakes. Nonetheless, they will never betray others. They will never try to achieve success at the expense of others. On the contrary, they will always help others to succeed in life.

Of course, each person has his own character. It is what distinguishes an individual from others. Similarly, we find the traits of good and bad in all of us. However, when we talk about a person of character, we are actually talking about an individual with good traits such as sincerity, integrity, fairness, trustworthiness, generosity, kindness and self-control. Such individuals are the kind of people who make a difference in our society with their dedication and commitment to all that is noble and praiseworthy in our life.

But how often do we come across a person of stellar character?Are we payingenough attention to be morally upright and blameless in our behaviour ?Arewe thinking of improving our character through self-discipline and practising virtues such as love, justice, honesty, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude and fidelity ? There are many among us who think that it is impossible to reform our character.

Natural inclination


Haven’t you heard of the story of the scorpion and the turtle?  The scorpion,being a poor swimmer, sought the help of a turtle to go across the river. But the turtle knew the character of the scorpion. So,the turtle said, “Am I insane to carry you on my back and get your sting? If I carry you across the river,you will definitely hurt me with your sting and I will drown.” “No, no,” the scorpion said. “I will never do such a thing because if I hurt you with my sting, I will also  drown.”

The turtle thought for a minute and found the argument of the scorpion valid. The turtle took the scorpion on its back and began to swim across the river. However, by the time they reached the middle of the river the scorpion gave the turtle a mighty sting. As they both began to sink, the turtle asked the scorpion, “Didn’t you argue logically saying that you would never hurt me? But then why did you do that?” “It has nothing to do with logic,” the scorpion replied. “It is my nature.”

Many of us are like the scorpion which lamented that it was its nature to hurt others. After making all kinds of mistakes, we often say, “What can I do? It happened to be my nature.”But we forget the fact that we can change our character provided we set our mind to it. What we need is the determination and commitment to follow high moral principles and lofty ideals in life.

The Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius (121-180) once said, “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” Yes, there is no need to argue about what a good man should be because we know what a good man really is. But the challenge before us is to “Be one.”



Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, CMI


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