Character! Is That Who You Are?
Recently I wrote a post entitled, “Really, Who Are You?“ In that post, I talked about how difficult it is to really know who we are. The problems of constantly changing and using a “snapshot” for description are a couple of examples why this is such a difficult question. For this post, I will explore an important attribute that each of us can use to help us find out who we are.
When I’m asked to write a recommendation for someone who is applying for a job, school or any other position that requires my opinion of the applicant, the first thing I think about is her/his character. It seems to me that when recommending someone to any position, information about her/his character should be included. Especially, if accuracy and honesty are desired by the person(s) who wanted/required the recommendation. But, what do we mean when we refer to character? On Dictionary.com, the first eight definitions for the noun, character, are:
1. the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
2. one such feature or trait; characteristic.
3. moral or ethical quality: a man of fine, honorable character.
4. qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity: It takes character to face up to a bully.
5. reputation: a stain on one’s character.
6. good repute.
7. an account of the qualities or peculiarities of a person or thing.
8. a person, esp. with reference to behavior or personality: a suspicious character.
After reading and pondering the eight definitions I listed for character, consider the following quote: “This is that which we call Character,—a reserved force which acts directly by presence, and without means.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. “Character,” Essays, Second Series (1844).
The Emerson quote seems to sum it up for me. Character, is a force, that from my point of view, is usually off to the side, truly does acts directly by presence, and apparently, without means. Leave it to a poet to “hit the nail on the head!” :-) In June of 2001, Martha Beck wrote an article for O, The Oprah Magazine, where she posed the question, Who Are You Really?
CNN.Com put Ms. Beck’s article on their website in April of 2008. The article discussed the need to let go of labels and even offered a three-step process for accomplishing it. Here they are, and in my opinion, are easy enough to understand:
Step 1. Be Still,
Step 2. Become The Experiencer, Not The Experience, and
Step 3. Practice Truth In Labeling.
If you go to the CNN site, you will be able to read with more specificity, but I think you can understand the point being made by simply reading the steps. In case you choose not to go to read the whole article, here are some excerpts from what Ms. Beck wrote about each step:
Step 1: “If you can do this (Be Still) — get used to sitting still until you feel what you feel and know what you know — your labels will start peeling away like onion skins.” So, be still and think about the label(s).
The first sentence of the explanation for Step 2: “All great wisdom traditions point to the knowledge that the essence of our true selves is not any fixed label but the capacity to experience.”
And finally, the last sentence for the explanation of Step 3 summarizes it all with the following statement: “When the bad labels come at you glue-side up, or the positive ones are stripped away, remember to answer poet William Stafford’s simple question: ‘Who are you really, wanderer?’ Why not remember today?” Label it truthfully!
Ok, so “who you are?” and character appear to be directly connected. How do we know when someone has good character? What evidence makes it evident? Considering the various definitions listed above, we should consider the traits and/or qualities of honesty, kindness, enthusiasm, empathy, perseverance, fair-mindedness, etc. and upon observing the evidence of those, determine the person’s character. And how are those traits and/or qualities demonstrated? I think through the behavior and whether or not the person is demonstrating them even when no one is looking. This is important! Character is honestly demonstrated when no one is watching. True character is demonstrated as a trait or quality of a person that is second nature – an automatic way of behaving.
What kind of character are you? Who are you? :-)