What is Character and Why Does it Matter?
Character is the mental and moral traits that make up an individual. Character includes intellect, thoughts, ideas, motives, intentions, temperament, judgment, behavior, imagination, perception, emotions, loves, and hates. However, it’s much more than personality, likes, and dislikes. Character demonstrates the things that define us to ourselves and others.
It matters because we all have a self concept. We all seek congruence. If our outward appearance isn’t congruent with our inner beliefs, we become unhappy or even ill. If we don’t have a good opinion of ourselves, we become dis-eased. Character builds over time. It’s reflected in your accumulated deeds. When you live an autonomous life that also includes the welfare of all, you develop a high moral character. So how do you build character?
Nine Tips to Build Character
Be Self Sufficient. This means you earn enough money to pay for your lodging, clothes, food, transportation, utilities, leisure activities and other bills. Learn how to take care of the every day tasks of living like doing laundry, cooking, taking care of your hygiene needs, and going to work every day. If you aren’t able to make it through the basics of every day life, life will be a struggle. You can’t thrive or offer anything of value to others when you’re struggling.
The struggle to be a self sufficient adult is real. There is a lot to learn. You can’t read a book to learn it (although that might help). You have to get out there and do it yourself. Experience builds character. Struggle builds character. Be thankful for the tough times because you won’t create character by cruising there on a magic carpet. You must get there under your own steam.
Socialize and Nurture Relationships. People are social creatures. We need each other for companionship, to share resources, to share the work load, for sex and intimacy, and for growth. You have to know how to talk to other people honestly and say tough things. You have to learn how to listen to things you don’t want to hear without blowing up. Knowing how to resolve conflict is very important too. Conflict is an essential part of growth. Learning how to say yes, no, and ask for what you want makes you an efficient worker, neighbor, and partner.
Engage in Meaningful Work. Tom Bodett once said that people need three things to be happy: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. Having something meaningful to do builds character because it gives us a way to contribute and feel of value. It doesn’t matter if you’re a school cafeteria worker or a bean counter. All work is meaningful. What makes it meaningful is that you understand why you’re there. Maybe you’re there to feed your family. It could be that you do what you do because doing a quality job matters. Or maybe the people you serve matters.
Engage in Intimacy. In a day where sex has replaced intimacy, it’s not surprising that people are lonely. Of course you’re lonely if you simply engage in the needs of the body and neglect the needs of the mind and soul. The mind wants to be stimulated. It wants to be heard. The soul needs connection. You have to show your true face to have intimacy. Many find this way too scary.
Maintain Healthy Boundaries. There is a saying that strong fences make good neighbors. This is true. If you want healthy relationships, you have to have healthy boundaries. This means being nice while also keeping high standards. Don’t just go along to get along. Don’t let people run all over you. Let them know what is acceptable and what is not. If you have to set a boundary, do it with a smile and respect.
Be Humble and Respectful. Not everyone is nice. This doesn’t give you permission to give it right back. When you’re humble and respectful when it hasn’t been earned, it shows your inner strength. It shows that you won’t be swayed by the way the wind is blowing. You stay true to your values.
Be of Service to the Community. When something needs doing, do it. It doesn’t matter that it’s not your job or your turn. It doesn’t matter how small the job is. A “big” person can do a small job without feeling small for doing it. At the same time, never make someone else feel small for what they do. A “big” person sees the value inside a person as much more important that what they do, what they produce, or how much they make.
Be Impeccable With Your Word. This means you mean what you say and say what you mean. Have you ever met a person who was just wishy washy? They’d say they were going to do something and you knew you couldn’t rely on them? Would you plan a vacation with them? Invest in a business with them? Have a child with them? If so, you’d better have a lot of flexibility and be a forgiving sort because you know in advance that you’re going to be let down a lot. People need to depend on your word. YOU need to depend on yourself. A person of character doesn’t commit to things he can’t or won’t do, but follows through once he gives his word.
Don’t Create Obligations. When you give something to someone, give it with an open heart and open hand. No strings. If you expect something in return, you create an obligation. That can lead to disappointment and regret. Society has an unwritten reciprocity rule. We expect that what we send out will be returned to us in some form. This makes society work well. It’s beneficial to operate in this way if you are the recipient of something. It grows your gratitude. However, if you are the giver, just give. Don’t adopt a “You owe me” attitude. It hardens the heart and makes you weak.
If you find yourself under obligation, pay your debt. It makes relationships equal and gives you more power and self esteem. Don’t accept an obligation you are not prepared to repay.
I see a lot of hoo ha out there about building a brand or becoming a personality. You are a person. You’re building a life. Try focusing on building your character. True character comes from what’s inside. It has nothing to do with image. Character comes from being self sufficient and unwavering in your ideals. What you believe shows up consistently in what you do and how you do it when you have character.