President's Message

Publication year2020
CitationVol. 33 No. 2 Pg. 13
President's Message
Vol. 33 No. 2 Pg. 13
Utah Bar Journal
April, 2020

March, 2020

Character Counts

By Herm Olsen

My mom would say: "Respect your elders. Chew with your mouth closed. Say "Please" and "Thank you," - because little courtesies make good manners."

Mom would also say: "Be nice to people; tell the truth; don't be a bully, because manners create your character."

Character counts!

Look at Harry Truman: The only asset he had when he died was the house he and his wife inherited from her mother in Independence, Missouri. I have been to that house while he was still alive. It was nice - but clearly modest. Other than his years in Washington, D.C., he and Bess lived their entire adult lives there. When he retired from the Presidency in 1952, his income was $13,507.72 a year. When in the White House, he purchased (and licked) his own postage stamps for personal letters. After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves.

When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he declined, stating: "You don't want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it's not for sale." Now THAT is character!

As president, he paid for his own travel expenses and his own (and Bess's) food.

He observed once: "My choices in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference." He not only had character, he WAS a character!

How about us?

I recently saw an inquiry asking about a particular attorney. "She is AWFUL!" Another said: "She is the WORST possible human being! Gives attorneys a bad name!" Another chimed in: "Very, very, very difficult to work with."

How painful to have developed such a character valuation. But we earn it, one way or the other, choice by choice, day by day. Sure - we're in a highly competitive profession. But that doesn't mean we can't say "Please" and "Thank you." It doesn't mean we must be rude or snarky. Such behavior bears fruit in unexpected ways, sometimes years later.

Consider this account from the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. He had an opportunity to appoint a new Justice to the Supreme Court, and each state vigorously jockeyed for their own candidate.

One day Senator Chandler and the Michigan delegation proceeded to the White House. Lincoln welcomed them in his usual, cordial way, and when they were all seated...

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