The Measure of a Man

Bethany - CA, San Luis Obispo
Entered on November 13, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

The Measure of a Man

I believe that the measure of a man comes not from the big decisions he or she makes, but the small daily decisions. A person’s moral beliefs stem from the actions they choose to make daily. Movies and TV dramas tend to emphasize life or death situations, where the character in a millisecond, must make a decision that will change the course of their life forever; do they choose pull the trigger, will they say “I love you,” will they jump to save a life?

However, these types of situations rarely happen in our daily lives and although they do reveal the genuineness of one’s character, the small decisions can reveal just as much, if not more, of our true character. When we decide to open the door for a stranger, or wait so the next person can get off the bus, what compels our decision? Does it not show that the one who chose to do so has kindness, or thinks of others before themselves? These types of decision are made in a heartbeat, and similarly, they are made from the beat of our heart; our inner ethics and morals. A person cannot in a second, turn from selfish to selfless. A heartbeat decision is simply a reflection of what is already inside.

For example, I work as a cashier for the school’s dining facility. One day, a co-worker of mine came through the line, and slyly asked, “Do you recognize me as an employee?” obviously asking for a discount. In a fluster, because I hadn’t expected him to ask for this, I made a decision in a split second between doing what I knew was right and nonchalantly charging him half of what he owed. I knew I shouldn’t have given him the discount, but for some reason I fell through. Literally a few seconds after the fact, my boss strolled up behind me and eyed the screen, “$3.65, huh?” Shame fell over me, and I felt so embarrassed that I vowed never do it again.

Although that decision did not radically end my life, or transform me into a new person, that situation revealed something about my character. I am fearful. Fearful of what would happen if I didn’t give charge him less, fearful of getting caught… A million reasons tied with why I was fearful, but in that moment it certainly revealed that I am fearful.

A person’s character cannot simply be tested “when the time comes.” As a wise student would daily study, and review class material, so it is with our ethics and morals. We cannot cram all our morals in one situation, and hope that it will compensate for all our bad decisions. Daily, we are tested. And daily, we have the opportunity to reveal who we truly are.