Spilled M&Ms© 3 – The Importance of Character

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: family, 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 Practiced 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 of marriages 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

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About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
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4 Responses to Spilled M&Ms© 3 – The Importance of Character

  1. Jennifer Olson says:

    Is character (who you are) born or made? If we’re born with it, then some of us are hopeless cases. If it’s made, how does one make his character “good”?

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    • Jim Edmonds says:

      Good question, and one I have been working on for a couple of weeks for a future post. Without letting the post out of the bag too early, here are some of my developing thoughts:

      The direct answer to your question is, Yes.

      I think that all that is necessary for “character “is within our DNA, what we are provided with at birth. Any parent with two children can attest to the fact that each child is different, and guess that if a third came along that one would be different in still other ways. That is Component One.

      A Second Component is how those DNA elements are nurtured and guided by the developing environment, the parents and family, or clan.

      And the Third Component, I think, is how those elements are reinforced (or expectations enforced) by the extended village, the tribe or culture group.

      We don’t have much control over the DNA that we were given or we have passed along. But in the parenting process we can pay conscious attention to developing and reinforcing desirable character traits (remember, there almost 1000 of them described online, so parents work on aligning the desirable ones with their values and principles, which are also being developed in the child). And at the same time we must try to mitigate the influences from the greater village, the tribe or peers, friends, neighbors, and the extended culture group that either reinforce desired traits, or punish undesirable ones, activities resembling enforcement.

      Not an easy task from the parent’s viewpoint, but I think not impossible. Fortunately, one of the good points is that most of us have learned to modify some of our character traits over time to achieve certain desirable ends (what do we want?, what does it cost?, are we willing to pay the price?) and this learning ability is also something valuable to pass on.

      So, while I’ve been working on this reply I see you’ve posed another good question. Back to quill and paper…

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  2. Jennifer Olson says:

    Still chewing on the idea of Character and the concept of either carefully selecting that which to reveal or inadvertently spilling it all out… From where does the wisdom come to carefully select what I’ll display or address others who are busy trying to deal with what I’ve spilled out? No one is that wise!

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    • Jim Edmonds says:

      I think this is part of our journey in life.

      As children we generally had a tendency to “spill the M&Ms©” as we felt the need. This gave parents the opportunity to reinforce or correct behaviors, instill values, and encourage desirable character traits in us. But let’s face it, while the success factor was never 100%, we probably picked up on the fact that some behaviors were never permitted, some occasionally, and some were most desirable. Sort of a first semester at the School of Hard Knocks. As parents now, the roles have been reversed but the process is much the same.

      Further along in our journey, we hope we learned enough to self-monitor (itself a valuable character trait) and match positive character and behaviors to a given situation. And, occasionally, when making a point was deemed of higher priority, we would choose behaviors to help establish boundaries or to draw a line in the sand. Sometimes that is necessary, but one has to think through the consequences.

      As adults we hope we have enough mileage along the journey and experience to go along with it, wisdom, actually, to recognize the character traits and behaviors most appropriate for a given situation.

      And when we do spill the M&Ms© again (and who doesn’t), we hope we have learned that integrity (to recognize it, confess it, apologize for it, and move forward) is better than stubborn denial (digging in one’s heels and remaining stationary).

      I discovered early on in my journey that a desirable personal principle was that if I screwed up with one person, I apologized to that person, and if I screwed up in public, I apologized in public. This principle has served me well.

      My recollection is that this originated from a quote often attributed to Mark Twain, “When in doubt, always tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.” The quote is difficult to trace, actually, possibly because he died before he could say it. Still rather profound, I think.

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