The most recent allegations of sexual abuse against Charlie Rose have rocked me to the core. I watched him on PBS for years. His amazing ability to interview people of all walks of life made him among the most intelligent, insightful journalists.
His career and reputation are now completely shattered and his viewers are faced with weaning ourselves from Rose’s probing conversations that allowed us to expand our minds.
His sudden fall from grace is a reminder that there is a dark side to every human being. Last year I taught a course on personal growth and the importance of acknowledging our character deficiencies. I suggested that we all have the ability to fix those negative traits. I shared with my class that the difference between personality and character is that we’re mostly born with personality traits, while character largely involves defining our integrity. Our personality is like our cologne or perfume but our character is what we really smell like.
Most of us are experts at recognizing personality. When we meet someone new, we instinctively judge people as funny, extroverted, energetic, optimistic, confident -- or, as very serious, lazy, negative, shy. Though we may need more than one interaction to confirm these sorts of traits, we’ve usually amassed enough information to justify our conclusions.
Character, on the other hand, takes far longer to figure out. It includes traits such as honesty, virtue and kindliness that reveal themselves only in specific and often uncommon circumstances. And while personality traits are mostly unchangeable, the more important traits of character are more pliable, though not without great effort. Character traits are based on beliefs – that honesty and treating others well is important, for example – and though beliefs can be changed, it’s far harder than most realize.
I don’t know if Rose and all the other men accused of using their power and influence to abuse and denigrate women will ever change their ways. But they certainly have the choice to do a personal accounting.
Becoming an ethical and moral person is not about listening to lectures or reading books. Rather, it is devoting oneself to a daily examination of one’s own personality and working on character flaws.
If Rose and others would do those things, not only would they become better people, but they may just actualize their potential by overcoming whatever it is that holds them back. And while their unconscionable behavior may never be forgotten, it might become a footnote in their lives going forward. One can only hope that the consequences of such immoral and unethical behavior might awaken them – not just to apologize to the women they victimized, but to show the world that redemption is possible.
Reuven H. Taff is rabbi and spiritual leader of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.