Skip to main content

Of Honor and Character

Mr. Smith is a retired volunteer and paid public service employee, with a degree in Forestry.

So Many Opportunities

As a boy makes his way through childhood and into adulthood he's already been given many opportunities to practice honorable behavior. Obedience to parents and teachers; taking care of younger brothers and sisters; fare play in sports and on exams are only a few of a boy's opportunities to "do it right". There's that moment when we all have to decide whether or not to "just say no". There are those countless "split-seconds" when we make the decision to voice or to hold back the hurtful thoughts racing from brain to tongue. With nearly every new day in contact with society a young man has a fresh chance to do something or say something of value, or to build a barrier between what he is, and what he wants to be.

What we do with all of the opportunities of our youth determines the habits and values, and ultimately the character we develop in adulthood; and beyond that, the marks that we leave on the lives we touch. No one leaves life with a perfect record, but the ones that strive for that are easy to identify. They're the ones who inspire us, or make us feel capable of reaching the mountain top. They're the ones who cause us to feel shame when others would boil our blood. And they're the ones who leave us in tears where others couldn't scratch the surface.

The Character Goal

Environment or heredity, which makes the man? Jack London's Sea Wolf didn't answer the question for me. Wolf Larsen and Humphrey Van Weyden proved both sides of the question in my opinion. I think every man has all possibilities inside of him. Common wiring so-to-speak. Oh, the opportunity to be the heir of the independently wealthy or royalty may not be afforded to every man, and neither is the opportunity to captain a seal-hunting ship with a crew of barbarians. It isn't the occupation, though, that is the man. It isn't even the occupation that is a product of the man. It is more a fact that what the man does with each and every decision and reaction in his lifetime contributes to a character who will honor or dishonor others and God.

Whatever his occupation... whatever his environment, ancestry or education, a man's character is good, or bad. I do believe in underdeveloped characters as well. They don't directly harm or adversely affect others, however they stand for nothing, stand up for no one, and have little more affect on society than a placeholder or paperweight.

This story, I believe, shows the "common wiring" that I think men share, and the importance of practicing honorable behavior:

During my youthful summer as a volunteer ranger I worked with a partner. I had driven from Southern California with him, and had been assigned to work as a team with him at the same location. The Big Sandy entrance to the Bridger Wilderness. I'd be on the trails one week, and he'd care for the campground that week. Then, we'd switch.

The Road

Road To Big Sandy

Road To Big Sandy

One day, before my partner Steve took his turn on the trails, a man walked into the campground carrying a day pack, and came directly to the truck we were tossing trash bags into. He proceeded to tell us that he had been camped on one of the trails with his kids and that his 13 year-old son had suddenly become very sick. The man (from Golden, Colorado) asked for our help. Now, this was a somewhat remote campground at the terminus of a dirt/gravel/mud road in rural western Wyoming and 40 or 50 miles from the nearest town. And the boy was still with his older sister seven miles inside a designated wilderness.

There weren't many options. With the big "handy talkie" I called the county sheriff who ordered a helicopter. Just flying one of those over a wilderness area (at least at that time) was very difficult to arrange. Landing one was out of the question except in cases of medical emergency. The sheriff asked about the boy's symptoms, and to those questions I let the father answer directly. Then came the location question, and my partner worked with the man, a trail map and the sheriff on the best landing spot. While they did that, I put together a few bottles of water and a knife; and then put on a jacket. I would have to go in to help these people pack up, and then carry the boy's pack out, so this family could get on back to town and the clinic there.

I struggled to keep up with the boy's father. I hadn't been on that particular trail before, and I found it hard to keep pace while trying to take in the beauty of it, and marking memorable points to make the trip back more predictable and comfortable. Once we had the family campsite in view, we saw the helicopter lift off with the boy. We packed up quickly, and turned back to the trail-head. Once back, I gave the boy's pack to Steve, and I wished the hiker and his daughter well. I reminded them of the need to take it easy on the rough road; and I turned toward the campground truck for a place to hide my fatigue. Steve helped load the backpacks into the family station wagon as I took a breath, some water, and wrote a brief report (much like the one I just wrote for you).

Another Adventure On the Trail...

I was a young man, but I felt older and more than a little too proud of the way I handled the whole thing. When Steve walked over, he handed me some money, leaving the same amount in his hand. I didn't want to, but I knew the answer before I even asked him what the money was for. Before driving away, the man had given Steve money for what we had just done. Having that money in my hand deflated my ego like a balloon without a knot. My reward had quickly descended from the heavenly golden streets I had imagined I deserved, and which no man could pay, to $20.00. I felt pretty lousy. Steve felt pretty good, because he had money to spend at the county rodeo (which is another story that I'll get to someday). I was angry with him, we fought, and it quickly destroyed the partnership. Within two weeks we were silently driving back to California, where I dropped him at his doorstep. We haven't spoken since. In 38 years I haven't forgotten that day on the trail. It should have been a good day for everyone involved. After all, word came later that the boy had recovered quickly from a bad case of dehydration.

Scroll to Continue

Looking back on this, I see my errors. Steve was happy to have twenty dollars. Whether it was right or wrong to accept the money was never a question for him. It certainly was a question for me, and the answer was "no", and would always be "no". But, I see now that though I didn't accept his $20.00 I was still taking something from the man from Golden, Colorado. I was taking praise and glory, and putting myself in a throne for what I had done to "save his son". The goal here is to willfully sacrifice something for someone else without taking something in return. I didn't accomplish that any more successfully than Steve had that day.

As you've undoubtedly presumed, I'm still working on my character. I have a long way to go.


Mr. Smith (author) from Indiana on December 24, 2010:

You showed me the other side here-- Not offering and then wondering if I should have.

I suppose I just wish no one offered money, and no one expected money.

But that's almost impossible for society to agree upon. When one person offers a dollar, someone else has to offer two, etc., and the meaning of "doing the right thing" is lost somewhere.

Thanks for the read, and the follow. Back at ya'.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 24, 2010:

You present an interesting dilemma that I often face on a smaller scale. I have had people help me with some chore like shoveling snow. Sometimes I would offer them money and they would seem insulted. At other times I don't offer money and then wonder if I should have. When I was younger I could exchange labor but I don't have the energy now to do more than my own.

Sweetsusieg from Michigan on December 08, 2010:

I can tell you all day long that taking the money was just fine, but until you realize inside it won't matter to you. The man was very appreciative of what you had done and had he had more he would have given it, just for being there to help out. Try to put yourself in the man's shoes even for just a bit. If it was your son who was sick, you would have done the same.

Here is a quick question that may help you with your guilty dilemma. When you do a RAK (Random Act of Kindness) (and I can tell by your words that you do) does just the act of doing something nice make you feel good? The answer is yes, so see whether it be $20 or a good feeling you still get something from helping someone. It made the man feel good to give something.

Can't wait to read more of your Hubs!! Voted up and beautiful!!

Related Articles