How would you define your character if you were asked to do so? Webster’s Dictionary indicates that character is a “distinctive trait, behavior typical of a person or group, moral strength or reputation.” William James wrote, “I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says; this is the REAL me.” In Helen Keller’s journal we read, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” John Morley said, “No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.” In proverbs 23:7 in the Bible we read, as a man thinks in his heart so is he.” Interestingly enough, it seems that all of these thinkers have expressed their opinions of what character is and it seems to settle to be that, “character is the REAL ME. Or the REAL YOU.”
If you want to be of good character you have to practice those habits which will instill good behavior in your life and mold your mind and personality toward good moral strength much like the qualities we read in the Boy Scout Oath. A scout is loyal, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, kind, helpful, physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. Such qualities and habits practiced by an individual really can help build a strong character. Austin Phelps put it this way, “The grand aim of man’s creation is the development of a grand character, and grand character is, by its very nature, the product of probationary discipline. Doing what is good, right, and proper as often as possible will help you discipline yourself to the maintenance of a good character. Fortitude of character, it can be said, is the capacity to say “no” when the world wants to hear “yes.” So said Eric Fromm in “The Revolution of Hope.” Charles A. Wong put it another way. He said, “Listen to a man’s words and look at the pupil of his eye. How can a man conceal his character?” Our character begins to form based on those habits, activities, and thoughts that we continually practice and reinforce in our daily lives.
“A wise observer of human nature once said that a sure test of a person’s character was for him to list honestly what things are luxuries to him and what are necessities. Try it. The result will show what kind of person you are. It will show the nature of the “real you”, your-deep-inside-yourself character. Under the heading of “necessities,” some people will put down such items as an expensive car, a house in an expensive neighborhood, nice and trendy clothes, or memberships in exclusive clubs. These will soon crowd out things needed for life and the soul. Other people will put down as necessities integrity and independence of spirit, no matter what they cost in terms of social approval. Others will put down on the list the religious quality and influence of the home, and the sharing of one’s goods in the work of the Kingdom of God. What we consider the necessities of life will indicate the “real us”, the deep-inside-person we really are. It will reveal our character. What do you consider the “necessities” of life for YOU? It can be an interesting and revealing process when we attempt to define our real and true character.
Our character is very much like the foundation of a building or a house. It is what is below the surface. It is what our life and attitudes are built upon. Thomas Macaulay said, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew nobody would find out.” I’ve heard that reputation is what you have upon your arrival and character is what you have when you leave. We cannot escape our true character and we cannot escape the fact that, if we live long enough, our true character, who we really are, will be revealed. Reputation is what people think we are as we do our daily duty, but character is what God knows we are deep inside of ourselves. And If God knows our true character, we will know it too. The famed preacher Dwight L. Moody said, “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.” We can take care of our character by the habits and behavior we decide to cultivate every day. You might say that a good character is the sum of many ordinary days well used. We all show our true character by what we say, by what we do, and by how we act on a daily basis.
It takes practice and discipline to develop a good character. Those things that we think about most, those necessities which we cherish and strive for, those thoughts, words, and deeds which we promote will determine our character. I read once that we all have three characters; there is the character that we exhibit to others on a daily basis, there is the character that we actually have, and there is the character that we think we have. The important key would be to strive to make the character that we exhibit, match the other two if it is built upon a firm foundation of honesty, benevolence, love and service to others. When we develop good character traits and exhibit those to others we will be more satisfied with ourselves and will expect the best and most likely receive the best from others. Thomas Paine said, “Good character is much easier kept than recovered.”
In our present time of outrageous corporate fraud, government misfeasance and malfeasance, and sordid Hollywood style decadence, along with “me first” attitudes, and situational ethics in all areas of life, there is a great need for men and women of good character to step up. There is the old adage that states, “A person is seldom better than their word.” In today’s climate of “anything goes” in business and in life, good character has taken a back seat. Yet, there is evidence that a few people care about their word, their character, and the value of being a good, honest, helpful, person of integrity. There are those among us who place a high value upon developing and maintaining good character. A person’s good character is the guardian of the soul. Quoting John Morley again, “no man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.” Do your own character check and see if you like, and respect the “Real YOU.” I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by the person you discover inside.