How would you describe your own character? What do we mean when we use that particular word? If someone was described to you as having a fine character, would you know what that meant? There is a good chance that you would. You would probably understand that the subject was moral or ethical strength – what some people call integrity.
But how do you know when someone – even yourself – has good character? Well, for one thing, you can see the evidence. Character is revealed in our actions, in the values that we live by. It begins building in early life, in our family. If we are loved and accepted, if we are consistently treated with respect, we grow up free from the burden of trying to prove our worth, free to develop integrity of character. Schools, churches and workplaces can help build character too – positively or negatively.
Some folks believe that people also shape their own character. If you would like to do this in a more conscious way, you can start by asking yourself: “What are some qualities I value?” Do they include honesty, compassion, discipline, perseverance, kindness, courage, forgiveness, and enthusiasm? There are others you will think of, as well. Now, what are some actions you could take which would demonstrate those qualities? What could you do to build these qualities into your own character, so that behaving in these ways becomes an automatic reaction, or second nature, if you will? It has often been said that pressure reveals the true character of a person, and this is where our second nature shines through.
These are some “heavy” questions to be asking, and you are likely to want to keep track of your answers. Remembering those answers is easier when you write it down. Neuroscientists have proven that the very act of writing (as opposed to typing on a keyboard) builds stronger neural pathways to knowledge, information and insights that come to you. A journal is the perfect space for this, and in the writing, you are likely to find more questions to ask, and more answers to figure out.
In the past, character has been defined as, “who you are when no one is looking.” As you think about these things, remember that there is a great deal of information available to help you. Search your local online bookseller and you will find hundreds of thousands of philosophy titles. Libraries of all kinds have whole sections devoted to philosophy. And if you look deep enough, you will find a wealth of information inside you.