After spending two posts on the elements of Character, it seems appropriate to add some remarks on why there is such an overall cultural emphasis on character, and reasons why the quote, “Adversity doesn’t develop character, it reveals it” is so important.
Evidence of this was brought home recently when two colleagues and I made a hospital visit to a young family whose two and a half-year old child was in the final stages of a long battle with a terminal illness. We experienced firsthand their strength of character and mutual support. I do not think it was by chance that we happened to be in the room when the child slipped into eternity, and the full adversity spread to everyone present: friends, staff, and visitors.
Quite honestly, the classiest character responses came from the doctors, nurses, and staff. Well, you might say, that is because this happens in hospitals all the time and, besides, they are trained professionals. Not true. Yes, this happens frequently and they are trained professionals, but that is not why their special character was so sharply revealed under this adversity.
Earlier I posted that Character is built directly on the foundation level in the Behavior Framework. It therefore has a direct impact on everything above it (what we Do and Say). Character thus ultimately controls the behaviors that we display in any situation in career or life.
These can be the involuntary behaviors that surface when adversity strikes, or the voluntary behaviors we choose (as in the many Games People Play). You either inadvertently drop your open bag of M&Ms© and everybody deals with what comes out, or you reach in and pick some. In either case, these are the behaviors that others observe and that will affect the image of you that they form.
For all those in the hospital that day, family, friends, doctors, and staff, their voluntary behaviors arose primarily because of their character, who they ARE.
Character is Universally Important
Ultimately, our behaviors and how others perceive them will contribute to the additional currents and forces (i.e., turbulence) as well as the opportunities that will impact the direction taken by our lives, relationships, and careers.
Just how important is character? Try and recall a few instances from a time long before you were thinking about a job or career:
-Deciding which childhood playmates you liked and didn’t like. Here it often came down to one or more of three things: those whose interests, personality and character traits complemented yours (read: shared interests); those whose behaviors you enjoyed experiencing (for better or worse); or those your parents decided you would enjoy experiencing (or shouldn’t);
-Deciding who became your friends, or not, during your formative middle school years. Again, one hoped these choices were mostly based on observations of the interests and behaviors that were most edifying and complementary to you, but realistically speaking, not infrequently the choices might be for negative relationships instead, based on felt needs. It probably included staying away from the bullies whose behaviors were not edifying (unless you chose to try and be one of them);
-Deciding on whom you thought you would like to be your spouse. And after you made the commitment, spending approximately the next seven years (remember the Seven Year Itch?) discovering even more about them, and filling in and adapting to more character revelations (discoveries or bombshells, take your pick. Just remember this revelatory period works both ways …). Most of us learned as much about ourselves as we did of our spouses. Judging from statistics, about half of us took this as positive growth, made course corrections and came out stronger, remembering (or discovering) two important things: first, it’s a long term commitment through the turbulence that occurs in life, and second, a well designed whole is greater than the sum of the parts. A shame that, statistically, the other half couldn’t, or wouldn’t, learn and adapt.
Now, you did take your character into consideration when you were choosing a job, right?
Character is a behavioral compass
It’s like the ability of a migrating bird to sense the earth’s magnetic field that involuntarily and unconsciously helps guide it to its destination.
We, however, have the choice to consciously develop and use character as well as our values and principles to guide us to our desired destination, a destination we also have to carefully and consciously choose.
How strong and developed is your compass? and How often do you use it?
Next: The Consequences of Character