People often use the word character loosely. “You can trust the pastor, he is a man of solid character.” “I wouldn’t let your daughter hang out with that kid. I haven’t heard great things about his overall character.” Character is such a commonly thrown around word that we’ve come to assume it is either an indication of the ethical nature of the person or something that draws attention to the less savory details of their personality making them not viable for association or someone we need to be wary of.
I looked up the word on Dictionary.com. The very first definition, before it talks about the morality or lack thereof, is a simple outline. Character is an aggregate of the features and traits that form the individual nature of a person or thing. How precise. How non-judgmental. How crisp.
What does character mean to the rest of us then? I’ll tell you what it means to me and then maybe some of you can tell me what you sum it up as.
Character to me is what makes up the core personality of an individual. We are all unique and yet, similar in so many ways. I’m not talking about the sameness of religious beliefs, similar political leanings or common interests and hobbies. While some of our definitions of character are derived from our upbringing, or the world view that we have adopted, I’m talking here about the foundational qualities that make up a human.
While trying to understand what makes up the definition, I came across an article that outlines the 6 pillars of “good” character and ways to comply. I’ll summarize real quick here –
- TRUSTWORTHINESS – Be honest. Don’t deceive, cheat or steal. Be loyal.
- RESPECT – Be tolerant of differences. Don’t threaten, hit or hurt. Be considerate.
- RESPONSIBILITY – Be accountable for your speech and actions. Be diligent.
- FAIRNESS – Share. Be open-minded. Don’t take advantage. Don’t blame carelessly.
- CARING – Be compassionate. Be altruistic. Express gratitude. Forgive.
- CITIZENSHIP – Care for community. Stay informed. Vote. Respect authority.
This is a good summary in theory. I will probably get called out here because I think if this is what governs good character, we’re all going to fail…..miserably. None of us, if we’re honest to ourselves, have achieved an A+ on all of the above. We’ve all practiced some form of deception, or hurt someone or manipulated someone or defied authority. Does that bring our character into question then? Are we bad people? I think not. Doing any of the above intentionally, up to a certain degree, even despite knowing that it is wrong makes us plain human. It’s the extremes that make mankind dangerous.
We are so quick to judge someone based on views we think are right or wrong, without necessarily stopping to think if the person we are judging is really bad or whether they are just different from us. While the character of a killer that shoots down a room full of people in cold blood is clear from his fanatic behavior, that of a cop that used a tazor on a driver who tried to get too rambunctious isn’t. Life is not black and white and neither should our judgment be.
I’ve been guilty of passing snap judgments on people. I’m learning slowly that I need to step back and realize I haven’t seen both sides of the coin. I’m far from perfect and not a happy camper when judged unfairly. Makes sense I indoctrinate myself too with the same quality. I’m willing to look at the aggregate of features or as many as I can see to make that call and I’m going to dole out generous portions of benefit-of-doubt before I do. How far are you willing to go?