As I walked among the more than 300 people who attended the reception before dinner, I looked at all of the familiar faces and it was obvious I was among a small army of people with great character. They were all there because character is important to each one of them.
I saw old friends like Doug Milne, along with a number of judges, business leaders and lawyers and I felt as if I was among people who cast some very big shadows.
It reminded me that we are fortunate in Jacksonville to have so many people who follow Character Counts' Six Pillars of Character: trustworthy, fairness, respect, responsibility, citizenship and caring.
It was inspiring and humbling.
It made me think about our community in more of a big picture way.
We often say Jacksonville is looking for an identity.
What is our brand? Who are we? How do we want to be known?
We once called ourselves the "Bold New City of the South." Some have referred to Jacksonville as the "River City." And, more recently, there has been an effort to be known as "Where Florida Begins."
What if Jacksonville was known first and foremost as a city of great character?
What if Jacksonville had those six pillars in its DNA?
When we think of ourselves and when outsiders identify Jacksonville, what if it's our character that first comes to mind?
I can tell you as someone who works hard to promote Jacksonville, the character of this community is very important in building the important relationships that lead to economic development, jobs and investments.
As I look at these six pillars, I know that this is a very caring community. We see ample daily demonstrations of individuals, businesses and churches that seek to help others.
We have many people living in Jacksonville who have a sense of responsibility for themselves and others; people who serve as role models for good citizenship.
I also think this is a place where people and leaders are generally thought of as trustworthy, although I acknowledge there are times when transparency is fogged and conflicts are undeclared.
Are we always fair, or do we take advantage of those with smaller voices and look for ways to one-up our peers?
And I often wonder if we are a community where we always respect each other, even when we disagree and despite our differences or diversity.
I can argue we can do better.
In fact, we always can do better across the board.
As a city that wants to be great, we need to make character count.
Character is not something we think about all of the time. Character is our silent partner.
It should be instinctive.
It's just something we do. It's how we live every day, whether it's in our business or in our homes.
It's how we treat others.
The organization Character Counts in Jacksonville annually presents an individual an honor called the "Golden Rule Award."
The Golden Rule is something we all learned as children. It's one of our very first lessons, and it remains with us for all of our lives.
"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."
The Golden Rule is two-way. It's reciprocal. It's all inclusive.
It's about relationships.
It means you treat your family members, neighbors and even strangers how you want to be treated.
Care for your employees, business associates and vendors the way you want to be cared for.
The Golden Rule is a simple and easily understood resolution of 11 words that speak volumes about how we should live, lays the foundation upon which we can build a good life and is the framework to construct a great community of character.
This past Thursday, I was involved in an event for Character Counts in Jacksonville, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring character and ethics education and awareness to the community.