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Souls of Steel: How to Build Character in Ourselves and Our Kids

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Pat Williams: Building Character in Our Kids

By Pat Williams

CBN.comPat Williams of the Orlando Magic is challenging parents to help their children develop integrity.

In his new book, Souls of Steel: How to Build Character in Ourselves and Our Kids (Faithwords), Williams argues that parents should not just “talk to kids about sex, smoking, and drunk driving,” but also talk to kids about the importance of integrity and how it will play a vital part in where and how far they will go in life. 

Williams believes that “character is not what you do in front of people, but what you do when you think no one is watching.”  In a generation he believes can get everything “with one click of the mouse,” anything from test answers and pre-written essays, to pornographic images, Williams says that children need to be taught that cheating on tests and illegally downloading music are matters of integrity that shouldn’t be swept under the rug.            

As a father of 19, Williams has developed the ultimate parenting skills for raising honest and trustworthy children in a dishonest and scandalous society.  Through his book he presents the importance of building what he calls “souls of steel,” in our children. 

The following is an excerpt from his book.

* * *

People Who Stand Firm

In February 2006, my son Bobby and I flew to Houston for the NBA All-Star Weekend. On Thursday the sixteenth, the day before the festivities, Bobby and I went for a jog. Returning to our hotel, we noticed a flurry of activity in front of an office building a block away—reporters, TV cameras, and boom mikes.

We jogged to the corner and saw a man and woman emerge from the jostling mass of reporters and walk to the corner across from us. When the light changed, the couple started across the street—and I recognized the man. "Bobby," I said, "that's Ken Lay!" It was indeed the former CEO of Enron, who was two weeks into a federal trial for securities fraud and related charges. He was walking straight toward us.

I thought, What do you say to a guy who's facing up to twenty-five years in prison? I knew Ken Lay once lived in Winter Park, Florida, where I now live—though he moved to Texas long before I came to Florida. And I knew he talked openly about having trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. I wondered how this preacher's son, who claimed to live his life on Christian principles, could have ended up embroiled in the biggest corporate scandal in American history.

As Ken Lay and his wife stepped up on the curb beside us, I put out my hand and said, "Mr. Lay, I'm Pat Williams with the Orlando Magic. I understand you used to live in Winter Park, where I now live."

He took my hand, smiled warmly, and introduced his wife, Linda. We chatted for a few moments about Central Florida before I said, "Ken, I want you to know we're praying for you."

"I appreciate that," he said.

"And I'm standing with him all the way," Linda added.

We said good-bye, and Ken and Linda Lay continued toward the parking garage.

"Dad," Bobby said, "he's really a nice guy."

Yes, he certainly seemed to be. And I couldn't help wondering what went wrong. Did Ken Lay succumb to pressure from stockholders? Was he duped? Did he yield to materialism and the arrogance of power? After all, he was a friend to presidents and one of the highest-paid CEOs in the world. In the fall of 2001, he reaped millions more by selling Enron stock while urging his employees to buy more of the very stock he was unloading. Enron's collapse cost thousands of employees their jobs and life savings. It wiped out a billion dollars in pension funds and at least twenty-five billion dollars in investor holdings. Clearly, someone made some very bad decisions at Enron.

I did pray for Ken Lay throughout the weeks of his trial. I was even pulling for him, hoping he would produce some piece of evidence out of his hat to prove himself innocent. But on May 25 of that year, Ken Lay was convicted of defrauding employees and investors. Sentencing was scheduled for October 23. After being convicted, he said, "We believe God is in fact in control and indeed He does work all things for good for those who love the Lord."

On July 5, while he and his family were vacationing in Old Snowmass, Colorado, Ken Lay suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Who was Ken Lay? He was the son of a Baptist minister and a devoutly Christian mother. He made a profession of faith and was baptized at age twelve. His parents took him to church every Sunday, and he was active in Sunday school and the church youth group.

To this day, I don't know what to make of Ken Lay—and I'm not going to pass judgment on him. A federal jury had the job of passing judgment on Ken Lay, and after looking at the evidence, they voted unanimously to convict. After the verdicts were announced, one of the jurors said of Ken Lay (and co-defendant Jeffrey Skilling), "I wanted very badly to believe what they were saying, but there were places in the testimony where I felt their character was questionable."

Sometimes people excuse themselves for a moral failure by saying, "It was out of character for me to do that! I was under pressure! The temptation was just too great!" But whatever we do, we do "in character." If I steal, lie, or cheat, I can't say, "That was out of character," because I did it. That means something in my character allowed me to do it.

We can't excuse ourselves on the basis that we were under pressure or the temptation was too great, because those are the times when character counts the most. You don't need strong character when everything is easy. Good character is the strength to make good decisions even in the crucible of pressure and temptation. A person of good character is honest even when the truth will cost him everything. A person of good character keeps going even when he's ready to collapse. A person of good character is courageous even when defeat seems inevitable.

As the Old Testament tells us, "When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever" (Prov. 10:25). We live in a world of stormy adversity. Authentic character enables us to stand firm amid the storms of opposition, pressure, and temptation.

Where will the people of character come from? Who's training and equipping them? Who's motivating and inspiring them? Who's setting an example of character for young people to follow? There's no question about it: character doesn't just happen. Character must be taught, modeled, and constructed anew in every generation. Where are the people of character? It's our responsibility to be the people of character, and to raise up people of character for generations to come.

I have conducted literally hundreds of interviews with people across the country who are engaged in character-building in one form or another. I have gathered their insights and stories— stories of how the steel rod of character came to be embedded in their flesh. The wisdom they have generously shared with me has changed my life and my outlook as a father, grandfather, leader, teacher, coach, and mentor—and I believe this book will have a profound impact on your life as well.

That's the mission of this book: together, you and I are going to learn how to build the steel rod of character into ourselves, our kids, and the young people we teach, coach, and mentor.

Together, we are going to discover how to forge souls of steel.

Purchase your copy of Souls of Steel: How to Build Character in Ourselves and Our Kids

More marriage and parenting articles

Copyright © 2008 Pat Williams. Excerpt taken from Souls of Steel: How to Build Character in Ourselves and Our Kids, published by Faithwords. Used by permission.

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