When last did you hear someone say “It’s character building”? Growing up, this was the standard response to any tale of hardship. It frustrated me no end. How big was my character supposed to be? When was it big enough to stop building, stop suffering? What is character anyway and why is it so important that it has to grow so big?
Character is who you are on the inside and how you present yourself to the world on the outside, your unique qualities. Years ago people spoke of virtues but now we hear about values, habits of behaviour. Many of these are developed at a young age, without our choosing them. They are thrust upon us by parents, teachers, TV and the behaviour of others. Someone with a strong character displayed values of integrity, commitment, loyalty, ambition and perseverance. While someone who lied, cheated, was dishonest or unreliable may have been described as having weak character.
Today, I don’t hear much about character. Now we talk about rights. Bad behaviour is justified by your right to free expression or overlooked due to your sad, neglected or difficult upbringing. We use an abused past to condone our abusive behaviour, poverty gives us the right to steal and laziness is blamed on our genetics. Our younger generations are growing up without the boundaries offered by values and character. We are so concerned about adding to their stressful lives that we are stunting their characters and in so doing, we are slowly losing our own. We excuse our physical laziness with the belief that life has become too busy for exercise. We don’t have time to cook our own nutritious food or get enough rest. “Fear Of Missing Out” has destroyed our commitment and social status has corrupted our integrity.
The world has changed so much over the last thirty years. As I have grown older, I have become more confused about who I am. I have been told I am over sensitive, up tight, prissy, a goody two shoes, too serious, old fashioned, insecure and a perfectionist. Personal development has brought my attention back to values and character. Now I realize that I value integrity, commitment, self-discipline, self-responsibility, courage and kindness. These are the character traits that are important to me. Looking back, the people who hurt me so deeply, who shamed me for these values and confused me, those people have different values.
I feel a weight lifted, unburdened. I can be me and be proud of who I am, proud of the character that I built through difficulty, endurance and perseverance. I feel huge gratitude for the lessons I learnt and the people who offered those lessons. Understanding has brought the realization that a character is never big enough. A character needs guarding and constant work. It is so easy for bad habits to creep in; little things which break down your character and diminish you. I always have the choice of who I want to be. If I find myself lacking, it is up to me to consciously fill that gap with a new value and to practice that value until it becomes habit, thereby building and strengthening my character, becoming a better human being.
Humanity is made up of characters, you and me. If I want to help the world, to better humanity, then it is up to me to stay conscious, keep learning, keep improving myself and keep moving…