What is character?
Wikipedia says that character, from the Greek word “χαρακτήρας”, was a term originally used for a mark impressed upon a coin. A more modern definition is known as the sum of all the attributes, such as integrity, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty, in a person.
Personally, I say that character is the sum of all your experiences and thoughts. Character is perhaps the most important element that makes up an individual, as it defines who a person is and how they react to the world around them. At it’s base, character is easy to understand, but very difficult to completely define. It is even more difficult improving your character.
Why is character important?
Every decision you make either improves or degrades your character. Why do we care? Because society will break down and the way of life that we enjoy to will fall apart if all of us do not promote and encourage good character. Emerson said, “Men of character are the conscience of the society in which they live.” Our conscience needs improving. Improvement that must begin with each us.
To strengthen one’s character requires dedication, effort and knowledge. Remember, you don’t have to try to improve every aspect of character every day. Pick one and work on it. Here is a list of traits you can think about. Pick one that you think needs improvement and get to it.
12 tips to improving your character
- Knowledge: Know what makes up good character. Many traits or aspects make up character. There can be both good and bad traits. Sometimes merely the absence of a good character trait can be a fatal flaw. None of us is perfect, but knowing what makes up good and bad character is a start.
- Awareness: Know thyself. Being aware of one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions, is key to being able to improve any aspect of their life. You must know your starting point and be brutally honest with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses.
- Truth: Seek the truth. Do not lie to yourself. Delusion will not help you improve. Having a good friend or mentor will help. An individual that you trust and respect to tell you the truth.
- Self-Control: Guard against irrational impulses. Aristotle and Aquinas considered that there are seven human passions: love and hatred, desire and fear, joy and sadness, and anger. While good in themselves, these passions can bypass our intellect and cause us to indulge in the wrong things: eat too much food, fear things irrationally, or become overwhelmed in sadness or by anger. Practice delayed gratification.
- Contentment: Be content with your lot (not imitating). Appreciate your own values and that which you have. Imagining that the grass is greener somewhere else is a recipe for lifelong unhappiness; remember that doing so is actually projecting your assumptions about how others live. It is better to focus on how you live.
- Brave: Take calculated risks. Life itself is risk. You can choose to avoid risk, but such action rarely yields results. It is best to face the situation, evaluate it calmly, formulate a plan and press forward. Like forming metal into a useable tool, forging character takes heat and pressure. The heat and pressure of risk and failure.
- Compassion: Learn to do good and care. Watch for opportunities to extend a helping hand to your fellow person. Sometimes, just a smile to show you care is enough. Maybe the act of simply sharing your lunch with someone or holding a door open for someone with their hands full. Compassion can take many shapes.
- Help: Get an accountability partner. Having someone to talk to and help you look at your situation honestly is invaluable. Your partner must be someone you trust and are willing to take their criticism of you.
- Gratitude: Focus on the positives in life. All to often, we dwell on the bad things in life. The troubles, difficulties and challenges. Don’t ignore them, they have to be dealt with, but do not focus on them either. You should think about the good in your life. Cicero said that, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
- Patience: Improvement takes time: Forging character takes time and hard work. You must have patience to allow yourself time to improve. Your accountability partner can help in several ways. They can encourage you, but most importantly they will likely see a change before you do.
- Diligence: You must guard your hard won character. Take care of your precious character. While creating it takes time and effort, losing it completely can be the result of one poor decision.
- Record: Keep a journal of your journey. Keep notes on what aspects you are trying to improve. Record your challenges, your failures and your successes. Objectively review this with your accountability partner.
Remember that to strengthen your character, you will work hard. This requires discipline, self-control and effort. Find someone to help you. Someone that you trust. Much like a blacksmith shaping metal, forging character requires heat and hard work.
Shawn Griffith is an author, blogger, coach, dad and entrepreneur. He writes about wisdom, character and common sense on his blog Down Home Thoughts. When he is not roaming the mountains with his lovely wife, he tries to make sense of the world. His first book is Forging Character, The Conscience of Society.