The Ultimate Test of Character

Character is defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Like a character in a movie or a book, a person’s character is the sum of all that they are. Is the person brave or cowardly? Are they kind or are they cruel? Do they lie more or less than they tell the truth?

Wise people are only concerned with their own character, but very few of us are wise. Most of us are just as concerned with the character of others as we are with our own. Everyone wants to be around people who are of good character. Even villains like an honest henchman, and narcissists probably enjoy spending time with people who are humble.

Conversely, I can’t think of any reason why someone would choose to spend their time with a person of poor character. Maybe you want to spend time with bad people to make you look good by comparison. This is a poor strategy. An honest man standing next to a liar doesn’t look any better. In fact, he looks worse.

I'm with stupid

Does this shirt make me look smart?

So, for the most part we want to be near people who are of good character, and avoid people who are of bad character. But character is a complex thing. How do you tell the difference between the good and the bad?

One way would be to get to know everyone you meet on a personal level, but this would be very time consuming. And annoying. I know enough people to know that I don’t want to know everyone. Another way to determine a person’s character, without learning every detail of their lives, would be to devise some sort of test. You could pretend to be hurt, and see who stops to help you, but this is sort of risky. You might be caught giving the test. If the subject knows you are testing them it ruins the results, and makes you look bad.

Injured Person Doctor

“Actually, I’m not hurt at all. I was just testing you.”

An acceptable test for good character would be something that is simple and cannot possibly backfire. I think I have stumbled across an examination that meets both conditions.

If you want to know someone’s character, let them borrow a pen. It’s just a pen. Pen’s are everywhere, and yet people are always asking to borrow them. If the person returns the pen, then they are of good character. They are conscientious and appreciative. If they fail to return the pen, then they have bad character. I know, maybe they had a lot going on or they forgot. It doesn’t matter. Failing to return a borrowed pen demonstrates a lack of concern for others, or at the very least is a display of forgetfulness. Neither are desirable character traits.

Pen and Passport

“I really need to use that pen. Here, I’ll let you have my passport as collateral.”

The world is a complex place, uncertain place, and other people are the most complex and uncertain part of it. Anything you can do to make understanding the multitudes of humans a bit easier is a worthwhile endeavor. If you are concerned or curious about the character of another person, but don’t have time to learn much about them, then let them borrow a pen. It is simple, easy thing to do, but it shows you who you can trust without any risk involved. The worst that could happen is you lose a pen, which is really no big deal at all.

And remember, if returning pens is good, then lending them out is even better. If someone asks to borrow a pen, you can test them, but they might be testing you back. Are you trusting, or mistrusting? Are you generous or miserly? The humble pen knows that answer to these questions.

Pen on Chain

Don’t trust anyone who keeps their pen on a chain!