Saturday, October 30, 2010

Integrity. Honesty. Discipline. Kindness. Bravery. They are some of the components that make up character. I don't hear a lot about character but I have spent some time thinking about it recently. Character isn't really something that is said about someone so much as it is an observance that is often described in pieces rather than the whole.

We can exhibit aspects of good character even emulate them if they are not actually part of our inherit being in some situations. A person who is not necessarily giving can sporadically donate a lot of time or money to a certain cause that seems to spark their interest and ignore or reject other requests for the same without hesitation or explanation. A fearful person can overcome their anxieties if prompted to do so by a set of circumstances.

These examples can be mistakenly used by observers to measure character only to disappoint when the person of whom they so highly regarded before has fallen short of the lofty expectations that were slapped on them like a label for one given shining moment in their life. It happens all the time. It has even happened to me. I've often done it to myself. I have given into the hype of what others have to say and become remarkably ashamed when I don't feel like I am living up to the pedestal I have been put on. I cringe when others tell me that I am their 'inspiration' or they admire me so much for all I have done. I sit silently in the wake of their smiling glow and ponder, would they say the same thing if they knew about all the things I have done unbeknownst to them?

"Character is what you do when no one is looking". I think that is mostly true, or it tends to be, but I think from my own observances and study of people historically regarded as having great character that it is more of an engrained pattern of behavior. Character is built, not something you are born with. Character comes from, I believe many failings, hardships and the person's abilities to learn from those things. I have done some pretty stupid things when I thought no one would find out about it. Funny thing is, people usually do find out about it and then of course you know the rest of that story. I wouldn't have said and still don't that those individual situations were the result of my character. They were bad decision making based on a specific chain of events. If you didn't know me, you would naturally make an assumption that the scenario and the cascading results were exactly who I was. That is not true but try and prove it in court. Get it?

Israel's King David from biblical history tells us that he was "a man after God's own heart". That is some title! King David did some really wonderful things and he overcame mighty opposition even within his own family. If you were to not really know anything else about him, you'd think he had to be something close to perfect given the incredible sentiment he is known for. King David also did some really lousy things to people very close to him. For one, he slept with the wife of a close associate of his. When he learned that she was now pregnant he arranged for her husband's execution and involved others in this mission. He was successful in what he set out to do. He did a great disservice to his country, his family and his God with this decision. Was this the true nature of his character? Not at all. Thankfully, this travesty doesn't immediately come to mind when most think of him. He was lucky.

Tiger Woods is an unfortunate example. When news broke of his first affair I thought to myself, "okay, he screwed up. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water". After about a dozen women also came forward my thinking changed to "he is a lying cheat". It wasn't because of the one but the many. He had a pattern of behavior not one time of indiscretion. Now, this is what he is known for not his amazing golf playing and the brunt of many jokes. His character has been reduced to one of laughability. What a sad state.

When judging someone's character, one must be very careful. Judging is something none of us have any room or merit for since we all fall short of who we really are truly. I believe that most people are basically good at the core albeit incredibly selfish. We set out with the right intentions but may factors come into play in our lives that drive what the result is in the end, our nature.
What I've learned in all this is to take a person and their behavior for what it's worth and factor in my past experiences with them and decide if this is someone who possesses the character that I'd like to be associated with. For we are not only judged by our own character but that of our known crowd. To be totally blunt, if you don't like any of your friends you might want to evaluate who you really are while you are complaining about them. Water does seek its own level.

The good news is that people can change. They usually want to change when they have had a heartbreaking realization who they are and a great desire to be something else. I've had the privilege of witnessing hundreds of literal transformations of life. What a wonderful thing to witness!

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