Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Strength of Character Or Hateful Arrogance?

There is a difference between strength and vicious arrogance. Timothy McVeigh parked in front of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, got out of the rental truck he was driving and walked away–leaving a scene he knew would be devastating in a matter of a few minutes when the explosives packed in the truck detonated.

The Oklahoma City Bombing, as that crime will always be known, took the lives of 169 adults and children, permanently injured dozens of others and scarred the lives of thousands.  Timothy McVeigh was arrested, tried, found guilty and executed.  Terry Nichols, who helped plan the crime, is serving a life sentence in a federal prison.

I was the United States Marshal for Colorado during the trials in the cases of US v McVeigh and US v Nichols and that trial process is the most memorable activity of my law enforcement career for many reasons.  Some of those can be the subjects of  future posts. In this one, I want to share a perspective that was reinforced for me repeatedly: The traits we admire in a moral and ethical person–confidence, determination, bravery, willingness to take a stand for what is right–all become negative, vicious and despicable when they come from an arrogant, hateful heart and mind.

I was reminded of Tim McVeigh as I was reading poetry this week and saw the classic Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, a 19th century British poet. The title is Latin for Unconquered, and the poem is often read at funerals–particularly for those who led a life of strong resolution.

Timothy McVeigh quoted Invictus to me on several occasions and, I understand, he quoted parts of it before his execution. He thought the concept fit him: He did what he believed was right and just, and he was willing to pay the price if he was caught.  Some people who supported him then and now think of him as a hero.  I think of him as a self-centered, arrogant young man who didn’t care how many other people paid the price with him. He could have been much more, because he was intelligent, witty and personable in many of his conversations.  But, he threw his future away along with the futures of others, to feed his ego–not his ethics.

When I talk with someone who prides himself on his strength of character, I consider the results of his actions and the positive effect he has on others. If he has consistently displayed morality and ethics combined with caring and compassion, I can admire him and will be influenced by him. If all he does is hate, complain, judge, argue, criticize and view him and his few friends as better than everyone else, I can’t find a reason to admire him–and I won’t listen to him. Sadly, some of those people, like a Tim McVeigh, could be a tremendously positive force in the lives of others. But, they choose to be filled with venom. Wise people avoid them to avoid being poisoned by the contact.

I often include a thought in my leadership and supervisory training: Work harder at having character than being one. That is a great goal for all of us. One way to show strength of character is to look at our lives humbly and acknowledge our imperfections–it will remind us that we have very little reason to feel arrogant and superior and many reasons to empathize with others. It may also help us purge hate from our lives, so there is more room for goodness and clear thinking. That is the foundation of strength of character.

April 25th, 2009 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 8 comments


  1. Well said, well said! Don

    Comment by Don R. | April 26, 2009

  2. This was very interesting. I wish you would write more about all of that. I know you get tired of being told to write a book, but I think you should.

    I looked up this poem and it gave it a new meaning for me.
    Good luck with your trip this week! Phyllis

    Comment by P.A.H. | April 26, 2009

  3. Great post, as always, Tina! I am glad to see you sharing some of these powerful insights and lessons learned from this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sometimes I feel you try to downplay your role in this, but there are many people who are fascinated to get your take on issues just like this. Thank you!

    Comment by Jeff Adams | April 26, 2009

  4. Hi! This hits home with me because of a friend of mine. My wife finally made me stop inviting him over because he never stops his rants. Like you said, he could have been more but I can tell he has problems with a lot of people.

    You sure have had interesting experiences for being such a youngster. LOL

    Comment by Mike | April 26, 2009

  5. Tina says: Thanks for the comments! Mike, what is so funny about the youngster remark????

    One day I will write more about that specific interesting experience, as well as about others. I don’t want to write a chronology or autobiography, but if I could find a framework that made sense to me, I’d do something. Maybe I will make it something like ten concepts I learned in my career, then illustrate each one with anecdotal material.

    I’ll give it some thought!

    Comment by TLR | April 26, 2009

  6. Very interesting information we wouldn’t know otherwise.

    Comment by Truth Seeker | April 29, 2009

  7. Ms. Rowe, I want to thank you for the great class you taught on supervising challenging employees. I also want to say that this post is very interesting. I agree with the person who said you should write a book about your experiences. When you used personal stories in class everyone was hanging on every word, so I know you could sell your book!

    Thanks again for a great time and really helpful information. I hope to have a lot of success stories to send you!

    Comment by C.K. Horton | May 2, 2009

  8. Tina says: Thanks to all of you for your comments!

    C.K, thank you for reading and commenting. Your group was great and I had a good time. Please keep in touch! I’ve sent you an email as well.

    Comment by TLR | May 4, 2009

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