Comprehending Character

Comprehending Character

A blog reader responded to last week’s “remembering” blog by mentioning Jim’s good character. Later that day in discussing a client’s temperament, he asked “Is character part of certain personalities or must those qualities be developed?” I responded that strong character qualities were an option for any personality but were dependent on a person’s willingness to work on strengthening their less-preferred behaviors.  I’ve taught and talked all around character for many years, but since the subject assumed front and center mentally, Comprehending Character began to emerge into this week’s topic.

“What does character mean to you?”, I asked a good friend. She thoughtfully replied, “Whether a person is introverted, extroverted or all ‘me’”. “What do you mean by ‘all me’?”  She said confidently, “When people pretend to be listening but what you say goes in one ear and out the other, or everything said goes back to something about them. It happens pretty often.”

After interviewing several others throughout the week, it became evident that many behavioral differences are tightly linked to character. I was newly convinced that comprehending character and its sources are crucial for parents, grandparents, teachers, professors, writers, employers, etc. to keep freshly in mind. If I were addressing a convention, I’d ask the attendees to use the pen and notepad found in their gift bag to first write their definition of character and then list the behaviors that they admire in others for reference at the end of the session. I’m asking you to do the same.

The dictionary definition for character carrying a fairly long paragraph proves that character is an all-encompassing word, but I was especially surprised by the first meaning: An engraving instrument; a pointed stake; a distinctive mark; style of printing; and way down on the list instinctive trait, quality or attribute; pattern of behavior or personality found in an individual or group; moral constitution’ moral strength; self-discipline, fortitude. reputation (without a shred of character) status, and more.

The words connected to character most commonly seem to pivot between good, stellar, solid, godly, excellent, distinct character, reputable or noble.  Leaders—introverted and extroverted--are recognized for their good reputations and intellectual ability to assess difficult situations accompanied with viable solutions. However, we read and hear about very quiet people who also have earned the distinction of confident, reliable, good and trustworthy character and leadership.  They work tirelessly, give generously of their time and possessions, listen, cooperate, are concerned about encouraging and guiding others.  When a family, business, club or church finds themselves in dire circumstances, the first person from whom they seek counsel is steady, wise, honest, humble and dependable. I’ll bet you have a mental picture of several in your close circle who fits that bill.

Yes, we can’t ignore the behavior that earns a negative (without a shred of character) slant: described by people who know them as “That person is quite a character” or “possesses a slippery character”.  We don’t have to look very far to discover talented and educated people who waste their talents on cheating, lying, stealing and underworld immoral practices bent on destroying rather than helping people.

Good character pinpoints those who can be depended on to tell the truth, do more than their share of the work, put others first, and stand ready to assist anyone who needs help with an armload of books, groceries, lugging suitcases, or bringing a bleeding finger or knee inside for sympathy and repair, with the words “I’ll take care of that, I’ll do it or I’ll be right there” always on their tongue.  A positive attitude, trust and respect go together and people with such tendencies stand out to those who know them.

When I asked another friend how she described character she quickly said “suffering builds character”. She recently lost her mate after caring for him the last several years as he battled incurable cancer. Building character is what we family counselors urge parents to do for their children by first setting the example and consistently teaching young children to be kind to siblings, friends and pets, and to keep trying to accomplish new abilities. This last week I got to watch my 9-month-old great granddaughter’s first attempt to pick up a ball and drop it into a plastic jar as her mother quietly and tenderly said “you can do it”, “try again”, etc.  Her big smile was evidence she knew she had done something exceptional.

We recommend that children learn to play sports or gymnastics, a musical instrument and care for a farm animal or pet of which demands self-discipline. Working when you don’t feel like it; when it’s cold, very hot or rainy.  Getting up early to feed the cows or help with milking, etc. Eventually these activities will also bring the marvelous experience of joining with other musicians, athletes, gymnasts and farmers, etc.  who’ve invested in the same self-discipline. A columnist who wrote an article about a much-loved music teacher who passed away quotes a mother of one of her students who said that “Kathy Yeater always believed in the kids to the point where they started to believe in themselves.”

Character becomes a vital part of the sixteen God-designed personalities as we know them but they have to be added gradually. The environment, home, siblings, teachers and peers all contribute to character building. Building character in children hinges on parents and caregivers mastering communication skills and respectfully and patiently teaching children how to be kind, patient with others as well as with themselves, honest, helpful, dependable and most of all self-disciplined. If you are a young parent needing guidance in this area, Jim’s and my Coaching Kids—Practical Tips for Effective Communication Smyth& Helwys publication listed in my blog menu offers easy and fun help.

What are some of the attributes of good character? Jim’s behavior was stellar He was gentle, consistent, generous with time and money, compassionate and a genuine listener, never in a hurry to pull away from an extremely loquacious person.  The welfare of another, including me, was his mantra—a selfless sincerity. Jim was not manipulative nor intimidating. His yes was ‘yes’ and his no was ‘no’ (a true thinking-by-logic-guy).  The people he led knew where he stood on a matter.  He was always the same, not ever trying to impress people.  In fact, one of the things he said while he was in the hospital when we were having lots of time to talk, was “I was never very impressed by anything I ever said or did”. His humility was genuine. Yes, what he said and accomplished certainly did leave lasting impressions on his children, grandchildren and a lot of people who listened to him preach, teach and build church buildings over a 60-year span of time.  His behavior at church and at home was the same--commendable. But the secret of the quality of his character came specifically from his personal relationship with the Lord, reading the Bible, praying and memorizing scripture.

Potential qualities exist in all of us and moral behaviors are a choice we all have to make. Self-discipline is the catapult in improving our reputation and the quality of our work. All achievers have to work hard, be consistent and keep their eye on his/her goal (s). How does your definition of character and list of attributes compare?

A spirit enabled love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23). Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13). But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18).  “…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope…” (Rom 5:3-4).                                                                                              Ruth, in the book of the Bible bearing her name, was a widow who selflessly chose to leave familiar surroundings and accompany her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, back to her country, who was said to be of noble character.