The Character Pledge (how to be a better person)

“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.” ~Phillip Brooks

Pledging to live up to a set of standards, to something higher and larger and more eternal than self-serving and immediately-gratifying impulses may be considered an insignificant step in the process of actually doing the work of building character. But it’s in the small steps that miles are covered and continents crossed, and a character is fashioned.

So take this Character Pledge as my humble contribution to our collective journey toward a better life, a nobler one, a life with less moral shoddiness and more virtue, less selfishness and more compassion, fewer moral face plants and more character success stories … and in the process, more happiness too.

Character and happiness are, in fact, inseparable. Happiness without character is a structure built on unsturdy ground, unable to withstand the winds of opposition and challenge, a superficial façade susceptible to sudden collapse. But character without happiness is unappealing, dour, stodgy and, frankly, partly misses the point.

I offer this pledge, then, as a source of motivation, a daily reminder, a stethoscope self-applied to gauge the regularity with which your character development beats in your heart, flows in your blood and pounds in your chest.

(To Tweet a more Tweetable version of the statements below, click on the “To” of the statements you like)

The Character Pledge

I pledge to make character the central part of my personal growth,
To treat those I need nothing from as those on whom I depend,
To treat my family as well as I would a guest in my home,
To be in private what I am in public.

I pledge to be guided by principle, directed by conscience, informed by wisdom,
To honor integrity higher than celebrity or expediency,
To persevere in the face of obstacles and challenges from within and without,
To live by values in a world that sometimes mocks them.

I pledge to live so as to be trusted and to be worthy of that trust,
To be honest when lying would be easier and kind when it’s not deserved,
To hold my tongue when impulse wants to injure and forgive when pride wants to remember,
To respect when lust wants to ravage and give when greed wants to hoard.

I pledge to serve the needy, defend the helpless and lift the weary,
To be loyal to family and friends and the God-given potential in them,
To see others through the open lens of love and compassion,
To reach out in love to both the unloved and unlovable.

I pledge to overcome chronic anger, selfishness and hatred,
To let virtue garnish my thoughts and inform my actions,
To resist the temptation to compromise virtue and values,
To be a vehicle for truth and a roadblock to gossip,

I pledge to become the person I want my kids to think I am,
To be grateful for life’s lessons and patient with its fellow students,
To be humble enough to be corrected by masters and taught by children,
To let the olive press of life squeeze out the spoiled parts of my still-developing character.

And in the process, I pledge to make happiness my moral companion as I travel this life leaving it better than before I happened upon it.


We are all gifts to the world. We are packages of some combination of traits and qualities that provide us with the substance of our character. But these characteristics are not predetermined conditions we are blessed to have or cursed to live without. We can grow and develop and learn and overcome and improve on the raw materials of our lives.

Think of yourself as a box. Some people spend all their resources on wrapping the box in layers of beautifully decorative wrapping paper, neatly folded edges, tape cut in perfect little squares, adorned by a variety of color-coordinated ribbons and bows. Everything smooth, expensive, fashionable, dazzling.

But if no gift is ever purchased, if there’s nothing inside the box, then no matter how well we decorate the outside, we’re still left with an empty box. The same holds true for a life spent on the trivial and meaningless. A character-less shell is similarly just a shell, a façade, and in the end is still empty, without substance.

The point of this Pledge is not to overwhelm us with too much to do or to guilt us into doing or being more than we can. It’s meant to inspire and remind us of our higher values. It is to call our attention to our own moral radar system, to a few blips here or there that may have fallen from the screen. Look at it like you would a buffet. Don’t eat everything. Choose an item or two to chew on for awhile. When you’re done, go back for more.

We all stumble, trip and fall, skinning our moral knees, after all. I know I do. A lot. The point isn’t perfection. The point is to keep at it, to keep stepping forward, pledging to do better, to keep adding substance to the packaged box of your life.

One step and one character trait at a time.

Your happiness, the world and the moral impact you were meant to have on it are waiting for you.

(Check out The Happiness Pledge here)


  • What parts of your character are you working on?
  • What lines from the Character Pledge most resonated with you?
  • What qualities did I leave off that you would have added to a character pledge?
  • What do you think about the very concept of a pledge of this sort?

Please share your thoughts below.