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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
12:42 AM Sun, Nov. 18th

Barnes: A matter of character

As an only child, I learned how to get along with other kids by imitating the behavior of older boys I respected.

One of them was Charley Witherspoon who lived across the street from us.

He was a year ahead of me in elementary school, but that didn’t prevent us from becoming friends. I looked up to him.

Until, that is, he became a street patrolman. You know, one of those guys who was given a flag on a stick and a bright orange sash and had the responsibility for insuring the rest of us obeyed his commands at the street corner right across from the entrance to our school.

Overnight Charley became a different person.

To say he took the job seriously would be a colossal understatement. The street wasn’t ever really crowded with cars. Very few parents in our neighborhood could afford them. They all walked up to 39th street to catch the trolley in order to get to their jobs.

But that didn’t matter to Charley. He used his flagstick to hold us on the sidewalk until at least a dozen kids were present then he would step off the curb, cock his head to listen for a car, and then yell at us to run across the street. Those who were slow to respond get paddled or prodded by him and yelled at.

This was my first experience with what can happen to a person who is given a little power.

So it was that years later when I ran across this quote by President Lincoln —“If you want to know a man’s character, give him power”— that I nodded and understood what my former friend, Charley, was dealing with. And why the rest of his classmates were angry with him.

If you flash forward to what is happening in Washington today, I think you’ll see the relevance of this short story and understand why there is so much anger in our capitol and nation. There are highly placed government leaders who are abusing their positions of power and whose character is being consistently questioned by the public and media leaders.

Of course, we don’t have to look as far as our capitol to find elected officials in local, county and state government as well as leaders in private organizations who have character issues. Handling power in positive ways that are sensitive to people’s needs, hopes and wishes is a challenge of considerable import.

But it can be done — and many are doing it well.

Let’s learn from them. And let them know how much we appreciate their sensitivity and service.