Don Rogers: Vail ski thief shows value of building character |

Don Rogers: Vail ski thief shows value of building character

Don Rogers
Vail CO, Colorado

Maybe John Horan-Kates can help more thieves reconsider, as did the person who took, then returned, those skis last week in Vail.

The thief left a note explaining his conscience caused him to reconsider his actions. Horan-Kates, founder and head of the Vail Leadership Institute, is working with a few high schools to help spur along that kick of conscience.

The thief’s kicked in a bit slow. After all, he (I don’t believe for a second a woman did this) did steal them. But there was enough character for him to be disgusted with himself and return them.

Clearly, this thief has a code, a standard for himself that overcame a weak moment. It takes a fair amount of character to make good on that moment instead of to merely regret it and then sell the skis for food or beer or whatever seemed necessary.

I don’t mind that my daughter is mildly annoyed during homeroom periods when she has to participate in the Exploring Potential program instead of doing homework or applying to colleges.

We all could stand to think a little more about personal values and building our character. Lord knows, there is plenty of influence tugging the other way. From the ski-bum thief to the CEO justifying the multimillion dollar bonus when his or her company tanked ” that pretty much covers the gamut.

I’ll take the thief who returned the skis over the exec who kept the bonus and justifies the bailout, too.

And I’ll think they both would have benefited from the program Horan-Kates and educators like Ashley Newman and Mark Strakbein pioneered at Eagle Valley High School at private citizen Melinda Gladitsch’s suggestion. This fall, the program expanded schoolwide and to Vail Christian High School and Red Canyon High School as well.

As I understand it, the students have discussions about core values, write in journals and hear speakers talk about specific values under study.

The workbook I have focuses on respect in the first trimester, perseverance in the second and positive attitude in the third. Each week has subset subjects, such as “Live the golden rule,” “Realize actions speak loudest” and “See the possible,” to pick some at random.

These are concepts and abstract. Hence my daughter’s impatience, I suppose. We all tend to have trouble with philosophizing and grasping reality outside of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, doing.But this is no less real. There’s a big difference between taking those skis or not, understanding at the gut level whether we deserved that bonus or not.

I’m not so sure character isn’t revealed rather than built. People remain pretty much themselves no matter what good thoughts you pump into them, I suspect. We have amazing creativity when it comes to rationalizing our bad deeds.

But saying that, supporting our personal stores of character can’t hurt. I would argue that core values cross religious and philosophical thought about what constitutes good among humans. I’d go so far to say that values are as core as mathematical concepts and perhaps even more important.

Let’s find the core principles and discuss them in class. Not just in class, either, but in the community at large.

The Commentary section pretty much boils down to what we think about what’s right and what’s wrong. That’s the whole point of our letters, columns, editorials, Web comments and blogs.

So we’re going to take the barest snippet of those classroom discussions and put them up at the top of the page. To start, we’ll run a quote or sentence focusing on the topic of the week at the top of this page.

Hey, it can’t hurt.

Maybe one of those execs will reconsider that bonus he did not really earn and return it to the community in some meaningful way.

You never know. If the guy who stole those skis can return them with a note, anything is possible.

Don Rogers is the editor and associate publisher of the Vail Daily. He can be reached at 970-748-2920 or He welcomes your comments. Read his blog at

Support Local Journalism