Character Corner: Break the habit

Character Corner is an ongoing series of commentaries furnished weekly by the U.S. Air Force Academy's Center for Character Development during the academic year. (U.S. Air Force illustration)

Character Corner is an ongoing series of commentaries furnished weekly by the U.S. Air Force Academy's Center for Character Development during the academic year. (U.S. Air Force illustration)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- "It's only a lot of reading if you read it all." This line, spoken by a prep school exemplar, predictably drew strong applause from the school-weary audience. Another line, often greeted with chuckles and nods, comes far more frequently and usually from more mundane speakers: "You only get in trouble if you get caught." 

Both of these truisms are accurate as far as they go, but as is typical with such sayings, they pay attention to only one part of the entire situation and ignore much more significant aspects. A different way of looking at the same things is this: You can't experience all the benefits if you don't do the reading, and breaking the rules still has negative consequences even if you don't get caught. And, of course, if you do get caught, the consequences can be far more dire than you anticipated. 

Consider the costs, risk and benefits of having an iPod when you aren't supposed to. Benefit:enjoyment, diversion, and relaxation (which can be obtained in other ways). Costs of getting caught: demerits, possibly restrictions, damage to your reputation. Risks, even if not caught: placing others at risk. Consider if your roomie is asked whether there are any contraband items in your dorm. Saying, "I don't have any such items" is quibbling -- a lie. How about increasing cynicism among those who came here for discipline and a challenge and find a cavalier attitude toward rulebreaking? Doesn't this attitude create the pattern of downplaying "unimportant" rules and diminish your ability to follow even important rules? Decreasing your stature in the eyes of a peer? And the list goes on. 

Sadly, most people break some rules. If you are one who routinely does so, I challenge you to pick one you are breaking and break the habit. Turn in the iPod. Stop going absent without leave. Give your clandestine pet to your sponsor's kids. Put the car or motorcycle in storage. And if you know a habitual rule breaker, I challenge you to challenge that person. Practice leadership by inspiring him to do what is right so that you can both enjoy the benefits.