What is character? Your 3 true strengths and how to develop them (2023)

With our archive now exceeding 3,500 articles, we've decided to republish a classic every Friday to help our new readers discover some of the best perennial gems from the past. This article was originally published in June 2013.

Character.like honor, is a word we take for granted and probably have an affinity for, but probably have trouble defining and articulating it. It is a word that most men would have liked to ascribe to them, and yet the standards for its attainment remain rather vague in our modern times.

It's certainly not a word that gets used as often as it used to be. cultural historian Warren Susmanexplored the rise and fall of the concept of character, tracing its diffusion in the literature and in the popular manuals and improvement guides at different times. He found that the use of the term "character" in the seventeenth centurytheand reached its height in the 19th century.the— a century, Susman writes, that embodied “a culture of character.” In the 18th century, "character was a key word in the English and American vocabulary," speaking of men of strong or weak character, good character or bad character, great character or no character at all. Young people were exhorted to cultivate a genuine, high, and noble character, and they were told that character was the most precious thing they could achieve. Since the beginning of the 20theHowever, in the 19th century, Susman discovered this.the ideal of character began to be replaced by that of characterpersonality.

But character and personality are two very different things.

As society shifted from producing to consuming, ideas about what constitutes the self began to change. The rise of psychology, the introduction of mass-produced consumer goods, and the expansion of leisure time offered people new ways to form their identities and present them to the world. Instead of defining themselves by cultivating virtue, people began to express themselves through hobbies, clothing, and material possessions. Susman observed this shift through the changing content of self-improvement manuals, which shifted from emphasizing moral imperatives and work to self-fulfillment:The vision of self-sacrifice began to give way to the vision of self-actualization.

While the counselors of the 19th century (and some of the early 20th century)thetoo) emphasizes what a man really isguerraytat, the new guidelines focused on what othersthoughthe went and did it. In a culture of character, good manners were believed to spring from a noble heart and mind; With this change, perception overcame internal intent. Readers were taught to be charming, control their voice, and make a good impression. A good example of this is Dale Carnegie's book.How to win friends and influence peoplefrom 1936. He focused on how to get people to like him, and how to make others perceive him well, rather than trying to improve his actual internal moral compass.

Susman argues that ultimately it was about the transformation from a culture of character to a culture of personality.a change from "performance to performance".Susman illuminates this difference by stating that the words most associated with character in the 19th century were "citizenship, duty, democracy, work, construction, gold works, outdoor life, conquest, honor, reputation, morals, manners, integrity." and more". all manliness", the words most commonly associated with personality in the 20th century were "fascinating, dazzling, attractive, magnetic, radiant, masterful, creative, commanding and powerful".

There is nothing wrong with cultivating personality and we have given a lot of advice about it here on the site. It can help you navigate the world, build relationships, and succeed. But personality is by no means a substitute for character, which should be the basis of every man's life.

So today we will explore the true nature of this largely forgotten ideal. To do this, we base ourselves on writings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the character was still king.

What is character?

The etymology of the character is quite revealing. The word comes from the Greek.Characterfor 'engraved mark', 'symbol or impression on the core' and 'marking instrument' and can be traced further to the words for 'engrave', 'pointed stake' and 'scratch and scrape'.

In antiquity, a mark was the seal or mark made in wax and clay, and as Henry Clay Trumbull explains in 1894Character design and character rendering., served as:

another name for the signature or monogram or personal inscription or trademark of the potter, painter, sculptor, writer or other artist or craftsman or inventor as an indication of the personality of the maker, or the distinctive individuality of the marked item. It is the visible sign that distinguishes one thing from anything else with which it might otherwise be confused.

I'm 17theFor centuries the word has been associated with "the sum of the qualities that make up a person." These qualities included a man's intellect, thoughts, ideas, motives, intentions, temperament, judgment, behavior, imagination, perception, emotions, love and hate. All these components, writes William Straton Bruce in 1908The formation of Christian character, "go to the formation and coloring of a man's character. They all have some part in the production of that last type of self, thatlast habit of the will, which ultimately forms the whole activity of man.”

The balance of these components in the soul of each person and the way in which one or the other predominates over the others makes a character unique and distinguishes one individual from another.

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However, it should not be assumed that character is simply a synonym for taste, temperament, and personal preferences. Things like your clothes, your favorite music, or whether you are an introvert or an extrovert have little or nothing to do with your character. Rather, character is defined by how your habits, motives, thoughts, etc. they relate to morality, particularly as it relates to it.integrity. The character was defined as "your moral being," the "crown of a moral life' and named as 'moral structure', something you have built through virtuous behavior. Bruce writes:

Character is nature and nurture. It is cultivated and disciplined by nature, so that the natural tendencies come under the control of the moral motive. The natural individuality of a person distinguishes him from his fellow men through clear and specific differences. But this individuality can be immoral. To produce character, it must be disciplined and incorporated into the framework of a true moral being. . .

Above all, [character] implies a choice, afinishedhabitocurvedVonWille,so that it can be seen in its result in behavior. Character takes the raw material of nature and temperament and weaves it into the strong, tightly woven texture of afully moralized masculinity.

The 3 qualities of true character.

To better understand the nature of character, we now turn to James Davison Hunter, who laid out the three qualities of true character in his modern book:character death:

moral discipline

We cannot differ as to whether our national character requires those qualities of self-control, prompt and unquestioning obedience to duty, joyous disdain for work, and zeal in difficult and arduous undertakings which, rightly or wrongly, we think of as military, which we so richly to our ancestors, and that the moral imperatives of our national task make so compelling today. To state these primary and elemental needs as precisely as possible, we call them discipline and rigor. Our American character needs more of both. –Robert Elliott SpeerThe Things of Manhood, Some Necessary Notes on the American Character, 1917

The trait most associated with character in the 19th century was self-control: an individual's mastery of his impulses and desires in order to be in control of them, and not the other way around. A man who embodies self-control.the royalty of self-controland you can direct your will and make your own decisions instead of being a slave to your lower impulses.

Moral discipline is also a quality that allows a man not just to stoically endure difficulties, but to really endure them.are actively seeking a tougher and stricter life, one that avoids the kind of indulgence that deprives a character of the training it needs and leads to softness.

moral bond

The search for character does not have self-cultivation as its only goal. Susman points out that it is actually "a group of traits that are supposed to havesocialImportance and Moral Quality," noting that the most popular quote about character in the 19th century was Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition: "The moral order through individual nature.” This means that the choices that each individual makes affect the world around him, and that the existence of a virtuous society is based on the virtue of each of its members. Moral connection means being committed to a higher set of ideals and acting for the good of the community, making sacrifices if necessary. Speer beautifully explains the importance of this essential character trait:

The moral elements of individual character are inevitably social.. . . When a man has "trained himself," to use Lord Morley's words in dealing with Voltaire's religion, "to regard every wrong thought, every neglect of duty in action, every violation of that inner spiritual law for which Humanity is continually perfecting itself. it will be his own guide and advantage. . . like a thankless infection that weakens and corrupts the future of his brothers", he considers every struggle in his own soul against evil and every constant search for purity not as a mere incident in his own spiritual biography, but as a fight for good social, and for the betterment of the nation and humanity, andthe struggle for the social good and the perfection of human life is basically a struggle for the victory of ideals over personal will. God can only seize people in people. He revealed and redeemed less through a social process than through a personal incarnation. And the only way we know of to uplift the life of the nation and equip it for its mission and service is to reshape our own character and that of other people and ourselves to be the kind of man among men that we want the nation among us to be. . people.

moral autonomy

Character cannot develop in an environment where ethical decisions are forced on the individual. Character is the product of judgment, discretion, and choice.born of the free agency of one man. A forced choice cannot be a moral choice, and therefore not a character choice either.

Davison summarizes the definition of character as follows: "Character in the classical sense manifests as the autonomy to always make ethical decisions in the interest of the common good and the discipline to adhere to this principle..“

How does the character develop?

What is character? Your 3 true strengths and how to develop them (1)

The character wins by its expression and loses by its suppression. Love grows through the expression of it. Sympathy grows through his expression. Knowledge grows through the expression of it. The artistic sense grows through the expression of it. Religious feeling grows through the expression of it. The ability to instruct, manage, command increases through its expression. The more a man does in any direction of wise striving, the more he can do in that direction, and the more man is in that direction. And the omission of the free expression of love, or compassion, or knowledge, or artistic sense, or religious sentiment, or the power of instruction, administration, or command, limits and diminishes what is thus repressed.

Possessing and exhibiting an admirable personal character is a duty of all. To possess such a character, its representation through its expression is a necessity.He who does not strive to express those qualities and qualities which are the expression of an admirable personal character, cannot hope to retain such character even if he were by nature; and those who strive to express them can hope to achieve the character they represent, even if they lacked it before.. –Henry Clay Trumbull,Character design and character rendering., 1894

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There are many things that set our character into the tone of our lives, molding our character into a unique set of scratches and grooves, for better or worse. Our character begins to form from the moment we are born and is influenced by where we grow up, how we grow up, the example of our parents, religious and academic upbringing, etc. Our character can be dramatically altered by a life-changing tragedy: contracting an illness, a serious accident, the death of a parent, child, or spouse. Such events can make a person feel bitter or cynical, or cause them to discover previously unimaginable soul energies and feelings of hope and compassion. A man's character can also be profoundly shaped by a call to leadership during a crisis or emergency, an event that tests and exercises his physical and mental abilities.

One of the biggest influences on our character are those we surround ourselves with, as Speer explains:

The important elements of character building, or character building, that we are most likely to overlook or underestimate are the extraordinary impressions that fleeting acquaintances from our past lives have left on us, and the quieter influences than those with whom we are make us closely exercised in later years - when our characters will usually be fully and definitely established. Perhaps if we could trace some of the traits that most clearly mark us today to their first display, we would find that we owe their development not to the constant training we receive at home or at school in their direction, but to the sudden revelation of their attractiveness. in the life of someone we dated for a short time; or we should also realize that the temptations that test us most severely, and the bad thoughts and concepts that have caused us the most trouble in life, are the growth of seeds planted in our minds by people whom, apart from that , we have nothing clear. Memories of the damage they did to us.

In addition, our characters are not only formed and guided by our peers in childhood. The best characters are always open to improvement and always in danger of deteriorating. In fact, some husbands seem to have been upset by their wives; and many wives, through the influence of her husband, come off as a different person after a few years of marriage. It may be a friend of our mature years whose purity and refinement, whose sweetness and grace, his spirit of justice and charity, or whose clearly defined opinions on any point of ethics in which he is convinced, impress us with correctness and beauty. His Ideals gradually influence his way of thinking and inspire us to fight for his standards of judgment and feeling.

Or our moral tone is lowered and our tastes spoiled by intimate company, in social life or in business, by a coarser nature, or by perverse and degrading tendencies. Long-suppressed qualities of our nature resurface, and those that once distinguished us fade from view.While we live, our characters are in a formative state; And whether we are perceived as strong or weak, our traits are constantly being reshaped and realigned by those we newly meet, admire, or associate with intimately.A new ideal presented to us, a character purer, nobler, and more beautiful, clearly coming within our field of observation and study, is something for which we must thank God; for it may be an inspiration to us and a help to a better and further development of our character than we have previously done.

As we can see, many factors, some of which are beyond our control, play a role in shaping our character. But the greatest influence on our character is what we have ultimate power over: how we respond to circumstances. 19th century writerstheCentury agreed that the true exercise and test of a man's character is whether he will stick to his moral standards no matter how hard he is tempted or how painful the effects. 1888fe y caracter, escribe Henry Scott Holland:

The character must prove free and above his circumstances at all costs. When a man is the creature of circumstance we call him a man without character; He changes with the changing hours, he has no identity of his own, and character is what we identify a man with. The character is vital and vigorous only to the extent that he insists on carving out space for action in the midst of pressing events, and dies when he cannot stand aloof and aloof from circumstances.Character is the reaction of circumstances.It is the inner movement that meets and resists the shock of change and external things. And therefore it must arise from a life of self-government.

Many men feel that character can only be built through trials and dramatic crises. But it is really "the constant, habitual, hasty, routine acts of ordinary life in which this set of petty judgments are made that shape character." We would do well to remember thatare "is done every minuteand it's not our fault - you and me as we walk and talk, eat and drink, marry and marry, work and play, go out and in."

As we face different circumstances every day and judge and decide how to act, our actions become our habits, and our habits become our character, as Speer explains:

Through the will, man passes from an intellectual state to action and fact. And these activities of the mind are not just isolated movements; They become links in a series of actions and acquire permanence. The agent launches into these actions; Yin the the exercise Von saber y List es Will characterized Von already drunk own wanderings.The more often you do the act, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes. And that mixture of pleasure and willpower creates that tendency or bias that we call habit.That is why we have spoken of character as a habit of the will..

Why develop character?

People of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Choosing to become a man of character means living a more disciplined and less selfish life. So why go such a difficult path?

Both classical and biblical culture believed that the character of each individual was related to the health of society as a whole. The founding fathers argued that the commitment of the citizenry to live a life of character was key to the success or failure of the republican experiment. “The enduring character of our countrymen,” said Thomas Jefferson, “is a rock to which we can safely cling.It is the manners and spirit of a people that keep a republic in force.A degeneration in these is a cancer that soon eats away at the heart of their laws and constitution.

Similarly, James Madison wrote: “Is there virtue among us? If not, we are in a pathetic situation. Without theoretical controls, no form of government can give us security.To suppose that any form of government will ensure liberty or happiness without some form of virtue among the people is a fanciful idea.

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The founders rightly saw that without a people of character there can be no trust and justice and therefore no true community and stability. There is no true pursuit of happiness.

What is good for the whole is also good for the individual. As Speer says, "only toughness can make a great soul" andCultivating character gives us the inner practice that makes our soul grow:

Only where we have gone do we know the way; Only the life experience that we have gone through gives us our true knowledge of life, because the end of life is its relationships, and the richness of life depends on the breadth of true knowledge and the richness of true relationships. . The softness of life is paralyzing because it keeps us out of real life. . .

[The] indulgent life [has no value] because it cannot connect men and women to the true sources of strength and power. No strong man ever made himself against any opposition. We do not develop physical strength by not making physical efforts.All the power of life we ​​have comes from resisting resistance.We acquire power when we draw it from deep experience and effort.

A life of pleasure and comfort, Speer concludes, "leaves men and women weak, without the strength to stand for themselves or reach for others."

Without seeking the power and strength that comes from developing one's character, we will regret not having the power of self-control when we need it:

And in our own lives, easy education is not easy. There comes a time when, having always done something good for ourselves, we cannot break the habit; if we have never taken our lives into our own hands and entrusted them to the great services of humanity, we find that we cannot. We find ourselves obeying our whims; follow every impulse; cannot be attached to any task; we know no principle when we see it; we have no iron or steel in any part of our character; they are the rabble of the world that worthy men and women must carry on their way.

The character offers a form of freedom that seems strange in our modern times, but still resonates deeply, at least for me personally:

There is no freedom outside of character. Freedom, as Montesquieu says, is not the freedom to do what we want. Freedom is the ability to do what we must.And the freedom we need is not freeing ourselves from whims and whims and listening to our impulses. It is the freedom that allows our eyes to see clearly what is right and then empowers us to do it.

Speer also reminds us that we can shape others just as the partners we choose can shape our character:

We ourselves are the shapers and promoters of the characters and traits of some that we meet or reach. This thought should give us a sense of additional responsibility and additional fear. what weis it soit can clear up the question of what a multitude of others are supposed to be and do.Our lives and characters enter and become part of the lives and characters of those we never met until recently, and their lives and characters enter and become part of ours.The composition of her and our characters is still in progress.

Does our character influence others for good and help them develop their own power and strength? Are we doing our part to be a man of character and bring vitality to our culture and nation? What grooves and lines do you carve into your character every day? Character is our legacy, what will yours be?

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