People of Character
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2018
The challenges of life, when responded to with solution oriented action, create people with character, full of wisdom, compassion, and resilience.
The emotional wounds from changes, endings, unfairness, disloyalty, and disrupted plans create character, veering from the perfectness, and demanding more from the soul. We mustn’t hope for the smooth wrinkleless face of inexperienced youth; but the distinguished lines of wisdom. Hurt by itself is not enough. We gather wisdom from increasingly our sound choices after absorbing the lessons from the pain, avoiding the disasters of the past, and living a more productive life.
We don’t gain character from an unchallenged life. The tugs and pressures of challenging environments provide lessons necessary to develop wisdom, empathy, and courage. The seasons of drought, although capable of destruction, also encourage the deepening of roots, extending to find necessary nourishment. If we stubbornly resist, blaming the environment for its failures—the lack of rain—we become victims, grumpy and indignant; self-righteously pointing our fingers in blame.
"The tugs and pressures of challenging environments provide lessons necessary to develop wisdom, empathy, and courage."
People of character, the Nelson Mandela’s of the world, react differently. They feel anger for the slights and outright evilness of the world but instead of a retaliatory swing they transition, using their anger and grief to move forward towards lasting solutions.
“The soul of a person who has not undertaken an inner transformation is not free; being in thrall to anger is a normatively unstable and undesirable state…” (Nussbaum. 2016, loc. 5213)
To master life, we must transform to the experience, using self-reflection and patience, as we process the world and become wiser and more stable. This challenges most. We want to react, exhibit our displeasure, and retaliate. Sometimes an angry response is effective but most times it’s not, destroying relationships, and ruining future successes.
“A walk that began in misery could end in exultation.” (Brooks. 2016, loc. 1717)
The world of fuzzy-feel good philosophy promises too much comfort. We are besieged by the idea of an easy life. We are told our battle torn and wearied bodies are a product of an unhealthy life. This doctrine is very enticing, we are drawn to happiness and comfort, willing to give up long standing ethics for this elegant gift. These promises are a mirage, designed to capitalize on our senses but ignore the realities of an unpredictable, rigorous, and sometimes even tortuous world. It wasn’t a castle (or a luxurious tower on Fifth Avenue) that molded Nelson Mandela but a cell.
“When most people think about the future, they dream up ways they might live happier lives. But notice this phenomenon. When people remember the crucial events that formed them, they don’t usually talk about happiness. It is usually the ordeals that seem most significant. Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.” (Brooks, 2016, loc. 1893)
We are not responsible for all the happenings in our lives. Unplanned and hurtful episodes intrude, uninvited, and demand action. We can complain, avoid the difficult choices, and slither into victimhood; or we can step up and act. William James wrote, "There is no more contemptible type of human character than that of the nervous sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a concrete manly deed." (Bellah 2007, loc. 2371)
People of character act, no matter what the difficulty, towards lasting solutions. Whatever happens, we are responsible for our response, taking the ingredients given by life and arranging them to create a better future. We can be resilient, pursuing something a little better. We can be hurt and still love. We can fail and still succeed. We love, live and enjoy life, not because life is perfect, but because we are people of character, accepting the realities, fighting through the struggles and basking in the light of living.
Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (2007). Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. University of California Press. Kindle Books Edition
Brooks, D. (2016). The Road to Character. Random House Trade Paperbacks. Kindle Books Edition
Nussbaum, M. (2016) Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice. Oxford University Press. Kindle Books Edition
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