Minding our character

By Gerald V. Paul

Eyesers, the term “character” applies in common usage to the distinctive array of qualities setting off one individual from all others. The word comes from the Greek, meaning “a distinguishing mark, impression, engraving.”

And the way to build character is not to loiter about old things but to seek and do new things! Good ole Abe Lincoln did a summing up: “I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” And H.G. Wells? “The best measure of success in life, is the ratio of our accomplishments.”

Dearly beloved, Eyesers, the reward for building character may not be anything of material value, even though being a person of character contributes toward material gains and enhances their value. We should recall that the prize given at the Olympic games of old was only a garland made of the leaves of the wild olive – unlike the Winter Olympics in Souchi. The Greeks cared more for honour than riches and fame. Good character is not the dwelling upon past excellencies nor a yearning after things as we wish them to be, but an acceptance of things as they really are with a view to influencing them.

Pray tell, what is it that prevents a person of undoubted constructive and intellectual ability from attaining a life of character and accomplishment? One of the most common causes of failure is this: Don Quixote in imagination, seeing visions and great causes, but remains a Hamlet in achievement by debating and postponing.

Excellence of any sort is beyond the reach of indolence. According to General De Gaulle, “that sense of reality which guides audacity.” It’s the consciousness of power developing out of efforts and the encountering of difficulty. No timid aspirations will suffice! As Milton said in his immortal Aeropagiticat ‘I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary.”

Persistence in trying is more likely to win out than sitting around waiting for the lightning of inspiration to strike. Byron, despite his club-foot, learned to dance perfectly, the stuttering – story of the Eyes guy, many moons ago- Demosthenes became a perfect orator – oops, Eyes, still waiting to “Burnhamized/Kabaktized?”- and allyuh hear story nah, Beethoven losing his hearing fought his way to incomparable music! Glory. Ah! If music be da food da food of love…!

We need zest in living. The person of sound character finds his days far from tedious. He approaches new phases of life eagerly, welcomes experience, tempts life to give one as much as one can bear. Let’s embrace courage and endurance as we refrain from doom and gloom, in a woe is me. Dearly beloved, those who enjoy the view from the mountain do not whimper about the scratches they suffered on the way up. Be encouraged.

The philosophy of life of the person of superior character will be something like this: after examining a problem, situation or proposal in a broadminded, evidence-seeking way, he will decide what he ought to like and what he should dislike. He weighs gains against losses, knowing that he can’t have one without the other. He knows that it is not concrete words like money and power that give dignity to character and happiness to individuals, but misty words like honour, love, loyalty, trust and faith. Some people have a false idea of character. They think of it as being like portraying goodness without personality. But the person of noble character has validity and actuality; he knows that he is filling a vital need and meeting his obligations to himself and society. We may see people of character in our everyday lives.

Indeed, the person of character endeavours to be really what he wishes to appear. Character deals with substance, not show. It is complexion, not cosmetic; the outward expression of the inner reality, not something stuck on from the outside. By the way, the person of weak character is like a chameleon; he takes on the colour of his surroundings. He may not offend profoundly against social laws, but drift serenely because he is making for nowhere. A common type of feeble character is shown by the person who credits himself for his successes, but blames his environment for his failures; he is an optimist himself, and a pessimist about all other people; he admires the superman, and believes that he too could be a great leader if people would only recognize his merits.

By contrast, the person of sturdy character has a good sense of proportion. He is not blown hither you by whims, desires and fads. He is not knuckle down by any situations that affronts him until he has done all in his power to change it. Character, as Goethe put it once for all, grows only in the world. Everyone has a basic and urgent need for self-realization and satisfaction, but he cannot attain these in a vacuum. We are not only individuals, but units in society. You see Eyesers, a person of first-rate character has learned the ideals and facts of life philosophically: that is, so as to discover principles. The habit of his mind is to refer to standards. He discriminates between the good and the shoddy. Part of character is to recognize the imperative nature of duty, obligation and responsibility. It leads towards broadmindedness and tolerance. Great-mindedness is the ornament of all the other virtues. Through it a man reflects the sensitive spirit that is death to the immaturity of prejudice. So the question becomes, what is broadmindedness? Eyesers, it is looking at ideas and facts from all sides, comparing statements, reports, and beliefs honestly and eagerly. As to tolerance, a writer tells about attending a dance in a country where there had been a revolution. The lights were turned out during the playing of the new republican anthem, because, as one leader said, “this is a social affair and we don’t want to see who won’t stand up.” A good principle, found in people of character, is to wait until the evidence is in before passing judgment. We cannot make up our minds intelligently if we judge by single facts wrenched from their context in a man’s or nation’s life. Whence came facts? Have they undoubted validity? Have you tested them against the common sense of your own experience and your knowledge of things in general? Have you considered in a kindly way, as Alan said in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped: “Them that havenae dipped their hands in any little difficulty should be very mindful of the case of them that have.”

So, are we thoughtful of others? Do we respect other people as persons? We must consider not only wherein a friend or an employee has fallen short, but also what that person has positively achieved or endeavoured. Sometimes we hear people lamenting the chivalry that is gone. They find among the tumbled castles and buried swords of the Middle Ages a code called knightly honour, for which they pined.

The gentle person today is one whose nature has been fashioned after the highest models. He finds the gentleness in society is far more fruitful. It pushes its way quietly, like the tiniest crocus in spring which raises the clod and thrusts aside by the simple persistence of growing- ah Spring…where art thou?

Anyway, gentleness is combined with strength and authority in the person of excellent character. Great minded men are not high and mighty toward people of humble stations. There are many tests by which a gentleman may be known, but there is one that never fails: how does he exercise power over those who are subordinate to him?

This gentleness is in the vast field of conduct quite outside legal commandments and regulations. It is an area well known to the person of good character but largely unexplored by others.

The person of sound character has not only talent but the power to make his talent trusted. Trustworthiness is a vital factor in character. The person of character is not constantly reflecting whether he shall be honest or not; he is honest by habit and as a matter of course.

An integral part of dependability is modesty. The person of good character does not allow his head to be turned by the flourish of trumpets sounding his praise. Yes, there is truth in Solomon’s words: there is more hope for a fool than for a man wise in his own conceit. Eyesers, all the virtues and principles so far mentioned, and others suited to the individual nature and circumstance of every person, contribute to the self-reliance which is so evident in people of strong character.

How are the principles and virtues co-ordinated so as to form character? It is motive that gives form and intensity to our efforts, and motive is the thought of a desirable end. It runs through our mixing with people and our solitary mediation, our dominance and our shyness, our conformity to conventions and our idiosyncrasies, our affection for things that are good and out ruthlessness against things that are bad. The habit that results from following our motives is not mere custom, but a way of willing, of deliberate choice. Self-respect, application, integrity- these are not beliefs, but habits. “Could the young,” as William James wrote, “but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone.”

Indeed, some people are fatalists, and will seriously question the ability of a person to change his character in any way as a result of conscious effort. That is a doctrine of pessimism Traits of character are not inherited solely, but are built within our environment. And of course, the opportunity to blame heredity is congenial to persons who do not wish to change. They seem perfect to themselves, and their faults are so lovable to them, that they resent the notion of making a few repairs.

Intelligent people do not fancy themselves to be perfect, but they are not unduly troubled by the fact that they are not. Perfection is a completion, without growth or expansion, whereas excellent character is the result of many recommencements. What is a person of superior character? Is it not true to say that he is one who pursues the true, the beautiful and the good? For what else is there that is really worth pursuing in a holistic life? Blessings….