Biology teaches that the cell is the basic unit of life. In a similar way the basic “unit” of character is thought. Thought informs action. Acting continually in a similar pattern produces a habit. Habit overtime forms character. Character determines the path a man follows. “Fame is a vapour, popularity an accident, riches take wing. Only one thing endures, and that is character,” said Horace Greely.1
People have asked, “Do you believe in destiny?” I think man creates his destiny. Emerson said, “Sow a thought and you reap an act, sow an act and you reap a habit, sow a habit and you reap a character, sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Man therefore does not just have to watch his action but also his thought.
Character comes from a Greek word, Kharakter which means “engraved mark” or “symbol or imprint on the soul.” Sadly we live in a society where character has taken flight. Character is what most men would like to have ascribed to them but fall far short of. A combination of qualities forms character. These qualities include a man’s intellect, temperament, judgment, behaviour, thoughts, ideas, intentions and imagination. It is the balance of these components in a man that sets an individual apart from another.
Character is forged with discipline. One quality mostly associated with character in the nineteenth century is self-mastery. It is the dominion of an individual over his impulses and desires so that they are not in control of him but the other way round. Rather than being a slave to base impulses, a man directs his will to make his choices. Character is about something greater than self. It recognizes self as part of a community.
Today it seems as if men of character are not needed. The “necessary” ones are the artistes that the media beams its light on. A lot of young people growing up including children have these artistes as their role models regardless of their character. It is a concern for everyone especially parents who have the major role to play in developing the character of their children. Consider the sort of songs that is always on the air waves: “Shake what your mama gave you”, “Sexy body girls”, “Follow me to my place”, “Take off your skirt”, are the lyrics of today. Creativity is dying. That women are objectified seems a non-issue. Children listen to the audios and watch the videos in which nudity has found a home. It is as if that is the actual entertainment. Today real strippers can be “imported” from another country to play a role in a musical video. And we consume! I see us even asking for more. Come to think of it, if these artistes were not getting famous and making monetary gains as a result of their songs devoid of nobility, such songs would not be released as much as it is today. So we patronize and they become celebrities. There goes the loss of character and it is a shame. We are not being as reflective as we should to see the damage this is causing. Any profession that ignores morals adds to the damage that humanity is already experiencing.
To possess and exhibit an admirable character is a task for everyone. To possess it, one has to express it. How is character developed?
There are many things that engrave our character for better and for worse into a unique set of scratches and grooves. Our character begins to be shaped from the very time we are born and is influenced by where we grow up, how we are raised, the examples our parents provide, religious and academic education, and so on. Our character can be dramatically altered by a life-changing tragedy – the contraction of a disease, a severe accident, the death of a parent, child, or spouse. Such events may turn a man bitter or cynical, or may cause him to discover energies of soul and feelings of hope and compassion hitherto unimagined. A man’s character can also be greatly formed by a call to take upon himself a mantle of leadership during a crisis emergency – an event that exercises his physical and mental abilities.2
One of the greatest influences on our character is those with whom we surround ourselves as Speer explained:
The important elements of character-making – or character-shaping – which we are most likely to overlook or undervalue are the exceptional impressions made upon us by casual acquaintances in our earlier life, and the quieter influences exerted over us by those with whom we are closely associated in after years – when our characters are commonly supposed to be fully and finally established…The best characters are always open to improvement, and always in danger of deteriorating…So long as we live, our characters are in the formative state; and whether we be counted strong or weak, our characteristics are continually being re-shaped and re-directed by those whom we newly come to know and admire, or with whom we are newly brought into intimate association. A fresh ideal held before us, a purer, nobler, lovelier character coming distinctly into our range of observation and study is something to thank God for; for it may be an inspiration to us, and help toward the better and higher development of our characters than we have before realized.2
Some people believe certain circumstances make men act in ways they would rather not. Are they to be blamed for this or the circumstance? I think it is through circumstances that we discover who we truly are. You may not know that you are able to steal or cheat until the temptation to do so springs up in a particular circumstance. And then you fall. The holier-than-thou attitude that is without character is unmasked. It is no surprise then that the very thing a man speaks against vehemently is what he does given a certain circumstance. How little do we know ourselves. Circumstances therefore do not make a man but they reveal who he truly is. Character is above circumstances. The reality however is that sometimes we get desperate and life situations overcome us. When it comes to circumstances, one should avoid desperation. Desperation can cloud one’s thinking in such a way that one sees only the option just before him. Often times this option involves making a wrong decision that leads one to do that which he would rather not.
This write-up continues in the next post.
- The Art of Manliness, What is Character? Its 3 Qualities and How to Develop it: artofmanliness.com/2013/06/25/what-is-character-its-3-true-qualities-and-how-to-develop-it/