Photo of Call to Conversation dinner in Pittsburgh on January 18, 2018.A group of Wake Foresters gathered over dinner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on January 19, 2018, to discuss leadership and character.

We were all enriched by the particular stories of character shown and the people whom displayed it. Everyone at the table shared personal examples character by telling stories of individuals including bosses, mothers, a high school football team, and a devoted son, just to name a few. We were very encouraged by the notion of everyday character, noting that it is all around us if you look for it.

Through stories and comments, our group demonstrated that character most often comes out of actions requiring sacrifice and empathy. We heard about an executive that went out of their way to include someone of a lower position through the simple act of removing their own suit jacket to match the employee’s attire in preparation for an important meeting. This action was done in a very formal culture and that brief act of powerful inclusion stuck with that person for decades.

The moderator asked us to consider the question, “Can character be taught?” Some traits were thought to be harder to learn than others, but we agreed that it is best learned when leadership and character are modeled or inspired. We also dug in a bit and uncovered the difference between worldview and character, which lead to open discussions about our current culture and news media.

Another memorable story that will stay with me for life was the example of character displayed through sport. The retelling of how the third string of a good football team finally got to take the field. They were all desperate to be part of the game and seize their moment of glory in the fourth quarter. Their coach gave a brief word before they took the field about a player on the opposing team who had disabilities and was finally going to take the field as well. Coach shared, “Look out for him and treat him like you would your little brother”. With no further direction from coach or parents, the team took the field, identified the player on the other team, called a play and snapped the ball. The running back took the pitch and ran directly to the other player and in a foretaste of the sacrifice that was going to be shown, took a hit and fumbled the ball right in front of the “little brother”. That young man picked the ball up and when he looked down field, he saw the third string team open a lane for him to return the fumble for a touchdown. Though there would be no dry eyes after that play, all watched an astounding act of character and sacrifice.