Here’s a Great Measuring Stick for Character

By Curtis Shelburne: CNJ religion columnist

I wasn’t looking for anything particularly profound the other day, just enjoying a good book, a great story, and a quiet meal when I stumbled across a little nugget of wisdom that surprised me. Sometimes that which is truly profound and wise reaches out and grabs us unexpectedly. Well, yes, we think, that is so true, so true that we’re a little surprised we hadn’t thought of it or put it into words ourselves. But we recognize the ring of truth and “Amen” it with a whispered, “Yes, that’s right!”

And here’s what I mined during lunch the other day that struck me as holding a glittering nugget of truth: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals” (J. K. Rowling).

Well, what do you think?

I think there is truth in that statement that will rarely ever steer you wrong.

If you want to take the measure of your weight (aargh!), scales are available.

If you want to take the measure of your height, a variety of measuring sticks and devices exist.

And if you really want to take the measure of a person’s character, maybe the very best yard stick is this one: How does he or she treat their “inferiors”?

But before we start measuring somebody else’s character with this particular stick, I think we’d be well-advised to use it first to measure our own.

How do you treat those who are weaker or smaller, poorer or less educated, less socially prominent or less popular than you? The answer says a lot about who you are really.

Maybe they are employees. Family members. Community members. Or just folks you meet at the store, in the post office, or down the street.

As the story goes, maritime painters were once putting yet another coat of paint on the huge smoke funnels of a great luxury ocean liner. Was it the Queen Elizabeth? Something of that class. They were amazed to discover that the actual metal had invisibly deteriorated in many places to such an extent that multiple layers of paint were about the only real substance holding the funnels together.

When our lives are weighed in the balance, when the external and largely illusional societal facade of houses, cars, bank accounts, etc., fade into the background and all that’s left, or not, of the real framework of our lives is something called character — something that the poorest man on this planet can possess in rich measure and the richest man on the planet, if he lacks it, can’t buy at any price — what will be left?

Do you want to know?

We can. We measure our own character every time we interact with those “below” us.

I’m thankful for the Lord who loved those below him — the lame, the blind, the deaf, the poor, the sinful-those who could never put him in their debt. And add to that list your name and mine. Then let’s ask ourselves how we deal with those “below” us. We’ll never find a better measuring stick for character.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at