Character. It’s a complicated concept, one that we believe doesn’t get enough attention. It can be defined in several contexts, however character, in the definition we seek to bring to the forefront of business, political and social improvement is;
Moral excellence and firmness, earned through one’s actions.
Character, is a standard of excellence. An adherence to one’s values and principles, based on what you do each day. Every person has the opportunity to decide their values, but values leave a lot of room for interpretation. To live a life of character, your values must be attached to principles and those principles must be adhered to, in order to develop character.
Values – Your ideas about how things should be, and what matters to you.
Principles – The rules you follow to make sure you are living your values.
Character – The strength with which you adhere to your principles.
Unfortunately for people looking for a quick fix, due to the ‘doing’ nature of character development, one cannot develop it overnight. In fact, it is increasingly difficult to develop character if your values and principles are never tested. You can tell people your values, but you cannot tell people you have character, because you must live it to earn it.
Character is developed through being tested, especially in the face of adversity and difficulty. Simply going through a tough time, or being tested does not mean you develop character automatically, adherence to your principles when they tested is what defines character.
For example, being nice when everything is going well is easy. It is not so character building to be nice to strangers when you are in the middle of a wonderful day/week/year. If you are being nice when things aren’t going well, when it takes effort, you don’t feel like it and it’s harder to manage, that is when you develop character. Tough times develop character because they prove to you and to others that you can live your principles when it matters, when it is hard.
Focus on values, is focus on ideas. Ideas are malleable, they can change easily and quickly, you can tell people what they are. Ideas can be interpreted differently. Value-alignment, in practice, is largely useless for this very reason. It is easy to proclaim that you value something, without ever actually living any part of those values. We all know people that value health, but don’t look after theirs, businesses that say they value employees or customers, until it costs their time or money, people that value equality, but stay quiet as their bosses or colleagues practice bigotry.
Values are simply not as useful as principles and character. In the United States right now, we have a country that is virtually unanimous on the value that ‘Children should not get shot in school’, they Value the lives of children.
Beyond the agreement that children shouldn’t die in school (a value-alignment) the principles differ greatly. From arming teachers, to disarming a country, to metal detectors, security guards, bullet proof doors etc. The difference in principles is what causes the dissonance, not a difference in values. Principle-alignment, alignment of the rules you make to live your values, are more important than values alignment, which is simply agreeing on ideas.
If you claim that you value helping people, and that the follow-on principle for you is that you ‘will help someone when you see that they need a hand’, then you don’t have any character built around that principle until you actually encounter that scenario. If you see someone needing help, and you help, then you are building character. If you had to really go out of your way, and it was difficult for you to help that person, you are building stronger character, because it took even more commitment to live your principles. If you ignore the person who needs help and pretend you didn’t see it… that is a lack of character.
We see values without principles, principles without action and a scarcity of character everywhere we turn. We need to encourage and support character in our children, our schools, our workplaces and public institutions and hold them accountable to their actions, not simply the words they tout as values.
If you would like to become a character-led organisation, get in touch. We love to work with organisations and individuals that are looking for long term character development, building processes, principles and opportunities for character development that help the real-world application of values. Share, subscribe and let us know your ideas on character development, we'd love to hear them.
Keep assessing your principles, Keep building character and as always, Just Be Nice.
Just Be Nice
A collection of articles relevant to pursuing the effective execution of altruism in the search for equality of opportunity.