What's Happening in Character?

Lessons in Character and Integrity from Les Miserables

Posted by Joe Mazzola on Mon, Feb 11, 2013 @ 12:02 PM

It seems like everyone just can’t get enough of Les Miserables.  It’s the world’s longest running musical, now seen by 60M people in 42 countries.  Along the way, it’s received 96 major international awards.  The most recent movie version is a box office smash, earning eight Academy Awards nominations.

The gripping story of Jean Valjean’s life is one that many of us relate to for different reasons.lesmis  I’ve often wondered which of the many intertwining storylines is the most powerful: each, after all, is filled with rich characters and moral resonance. Knowing the answer would tell us a lot about what people across the world value today--justice, redemption, love, faith, determination, salvation or something else.

For me, the most powerful part of the story is when Valjean struggles with what to do when hearing that another man was arrested in his place.  If he remains silent, Valjean will finally be a free man and never have to look over his shoulder again.  However, if he does make this decision, he’ll have to live the rest of his life knowing that an innocent man was condemned because of him. 

Jean Valjean does some serious soul searching at this point of the story.  His inner struggle is depicted in the lyrics of my very favorite song, “Who Am I?” The song beautifully captures the power of conscience and character.  Here are some of the lyrics:

                Who am I?
                Why should I save his hide?  Why should I right this wrong?
                When I have come so far and struggled for so long.

                Who am I?
                Can I conceal myself for evermore?  Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
                And must my name, until I die, be no more than an alibi?

                Must I lie?
                How can I ever face my fellow men?  How can I ever face myself again?
                My soul belongs to God, I know;  I made that bargain long ago.

                He gave me hope when hope was gone.  He gave me strength to journey on.
                Who am I?   Who am I?  

You know how it ends–he does the right thing and shouts out “I’m Jean Valjean--24601!”

Valjean’s character was tested in Les Mis.  The same thing happens to us in our own lives.  All of us will find ourselves in situations when we will have to decide whether or not to do the right thing when it’s hard…when the stakes are high…when there are powerful forces pulling us in the opposite direction… and when nobody is looking.   Friends, if you’re looking for a good definition of “character” – it’s “Who We Are” (and, therefore, “what we do” in the above circumstance).    

And, if you’re looking for a good reason to continue stressing the importance of good character in your school, on your team or in your family--just remind yourself that by doing so you are helping to prepare young people to pass those “other” important tests they’ll take in life—when they will look in the mirror and ask, “Who am I?”

Thank you for helping to develop people of good character…who will do the right thing!

Topics: character, integrity, ethics, moral character, role models