Sunday Snippet: Abigail van Buren (Dear Abby)

“The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Born Pauline Esther Phillips, “Abigail van Buren” is best known for her wildly popular “Dear Abby” advice column. During the time she was writing the advice column, it become the most widely-syndicated newspaper column in the world, reaching over 100 million readers every week. Needless to say, she was well-respected for helping people with their relationship issues.

And this quote does a great job of summing up what it means to have a good character. On the one hand, you have to look at how a person treats people who can’t necessarily benefit them. This means that the person is not acting out of some ulterior motive; they are acting without the “what’s in it for me?” mentality that so many of us have. You treat people well, because it is the right thing to do.

At the same time, we also have to look at how we treat people who can’t fight back, people with whom we have the upper hand and have the opportunity to take advantage of them. Abraham Lincoln said that the way you really test a man’s character is to give him power. Just because you can step on someone’s back doesn’t mean that you should. Do you exploit those who cannot defend themselves?

Success in business is all well and good. Don’t get me wrong; I like making money and achieving great things as much as anyone else, but if you can’t respect and admire the person who stares back at you in the mirror, I don’t think it’s worth it. We could talk about shifting priorities and leaving some sort of legacy, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to ask yourself: Are you proud of how you conduct yourself? Would others be proud of you too?