MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

THAT THING CALLED CHARACTER

The lithe young student took the pass from out of bounds. He stood there, almost indolently, as if daring his opponent to take the ball from him. His opponent lunged desperately, but he was too fast. He dribbled the ball, effortlessly it seemed, and his opponent tried to keep up with him. He stopped suddenly and jumped. The ball arched over his opponent’s outstretched hand and floated toward the basket. He heard that unmistakable friction sound that a basketball makes when it settles cleanly in the net and drops through.

The young man took for granted the perfectly executed shot he had made. He had all the classic moves and he had all the shots, from hooks to set-ups. He had the grace and economy of movement that distinguishes the superlative basketball player. But he was not a superlative basketball player and chances were that he never would be. He was lax on defense, he considered teammates a ridiculous superfluity, and he only did his best on special occasions. In short, he lacked character.

Whether or not he ever becomes an outstanding athlete is of no moment. What is of more importance is that the doggedness, the dedication, the consideration for others that was missing on the basketball court likely will be missing in his life. It will affect his education, his vocation, his most intimate relationships. Every little area of human activity is a magical microcosm of life itself. It is a sobering reflection to realize that all of our most important qualities are visible in such insignificant actions. Emerson said that all the universe is seen in a single leaf.

If we only knew how quick we are to betray ourselves! The discerning man would easily plot most of our future failures. In the way an adolescent mistreats his mother, or father, or brother or sister, or grandparent, is the seed of future difficulties and sadness. The daily schoolroom, with all the cheating and indifference, is a polygraph of future disappointments and failures. The self-centered conversationalist is setting forth in the most vivid manner the symptoms of his insecurity. In a thousand little ways we shout to others the most important qualities about us, but we ourselves are ignorant of the revelation.