Character should be as reliable as a typewriter

Bob Penton is a reader columnist for The News Tribune.
Bob Penton is a reader columnist for The News Tribune. Tacoma

Remember the old-fashioned typewriter? Each letter of the alphabet was called a character. Some of the world’s finest literature and research has been produced from these noisy cuckoo looking machines.

Typewriters have been replaced by computers, but they still have fans, among them are actor Tom Hanks, the New York City Police Department and myself.

The “old Remington” typewriter, as it was called, had character. Once the key struck the paper, the imprint became a symbol of ownership and identity. It represented the mind and thoughts of the person creating the document.

Unlike the sleek, slick, swift and snappy computer, the typewriter should be called “Old Faithful,” because it never strayed from its original mission; it never got distracted by copious commercial blips. It never became part of social media with self-aggrandizing selfies like the jazzy cell phone or the overrated computer.

We need to be more like the typewriter and less like the computer.

The typewriter’s character has never changed. The typewriter can, in fact, be compared to the human character. Character. Now, that’s a word you don’t hear often enough.

I wonder, if character has taken a hike. If you read the news, too many people are missing one.

So, what is character?

The human character is in accordance with a person’s unique qualities or traits. Our environment and experiences are imprinted on the psyche and soul; they help form personality and build character.

Character is not what we do, and it’s not our titles. You can’t earn it at a university or buy it from a bank. Character is built one choice at a time. Freudian psychoanalytic theory says: the id, ego, and superego include both conscious and unconscious – this is character.

Good character is not transitory. It’s as stable as an age-old lighthouse which casts forth a beckoning light in the darkest of nights. Character has the power to guide huge warships to a safe harbor.

My mother, who recently died at 92 years-old, instilled in each of her seven children the elements of a good character. They were: Be good, smell good and look good, in that order.

She’s the first one who taught me that character speaks without any movement of the lips: it’s quieter than a church house mouse.

One evening I suddenly realized that I needed to actively listen to my wife. I needed to be quiet. She had a lot to say. The journey lasted two and a half hours. I didn’t interrupt.

There were words hurled at me, sometimes painful ones, and her storyline didn’t follow sequential order, but I endeavored to give her my undivided attention. The benefits of such brutal truth far outweighed the agony I endured.

Good character means listening more than we talk. It should be on display in all of life’s endeavors. And when you lose your need to be right all the time, that’s when you see it shine the brightest.

For those out there considering marriage, think about this: Before you say “I do,” ask yourself, ”What do I need to do before I say I do?”

As our health is determined by the food we eat each day, our character is determined by the thoughts we think each day. So, let me ask, what did you eat or think about today? But more important, if you’re story were typed out on a page today, would it display a good character?

Bob Penton of South Hill has served as both pastor and community organizer in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood for 52 years.