I came across a pretty interesting article this week that got me thinking about the lack of character I see in too many people nowadays. It was regarding a study done by historian Warren Susman in which he pinpointed the era in which the "culture of character" gave way to the "culture of personality". Susman noted that character peaked in the nineteenth century and then quickly was overtaken in the twentieth by personality becoming the front runner in the way in which to define someone by. This finding made me scratch my head in utter confusion while simultaneously having an epiphany as to why people seem to have left the importance of character in the dust. Susman wrote "The vision of self-sacrifice began to yield to that of self-realization and because of this shift, perception started eclipsing internal intent". That, to me, is a huge problem, my friends.
Personality and character should not even be on the same playing field as each other when it relates to how we in society define one another and long-term success. When character was the basis of a "good" man, people were described according to their integrity, virtues, honesty, and so on. If we are now living in the "culture of personality", we are defining ourselves and others based on what we like to do, how introverted or extroverted we are, what kind of material possessions we have, and so on. We are now focusing on how to be likable, approachable, and how to make a good impression instead of sharpening our God-given mental and moral qualities. Further dividing the two, personality is a facade, it is how you display yourself around other people and this isn't necessarily who you really are at your core. Is it time we got back to being a "culture of character" and if so, what do we focus on?
Character takes up the raw material of nature and temperament, and weaves these into the strong, well-knit texture of a fully moralized manhood.
There are indispensable elements of nature that are unified with one's character. Character is both nature and nurture; cultivated and indoctrinated by nature leads to shaping our natural abilities based on our moral rationales. The very nature of character lies in three qualities: self-mastery, moral attachment, and moral autonomy.
1. Self-mastery is the foundation of character for it allows one to practice self-control. Without self-control you allow habits to rule you, your desire for self-determination diminishes, you blame others for your state of affairs, you become a slave to others, etc. When you begin to master thyself you find your character strengthened through exercising righteousness and ultimately, power through love of self and others instead of fear; virtue expands.
2. Moral attachment comes next when strengthening your character and this means that one understands that character is not only about Self but that it contributes to something greater, such as community. It says that you, me, the individual merely acts as the "vehicle", the means of moral order, and as this "vehicle" we embody and practice a set of higher ideals and sacrifices for the greater good of others.
3. Lastly, we must understand moral autonomy, or understanding that character lies in the individual, the Self. Essentially, moral autonomy is the practice of self-reflection and being conscious of who you are at your core. It is reflecting on why you do what you do; are your actions morally aligned with your beliefs or are outside forces leading to internal conflicts between Self and said actions?
I believe that if we were to start strengthening our moral compasses in terms of character instead of perfecting these manifestations of how we are perceived through personality, individually and as a society universally might become better, if not greater. Humans might focus more on loyalty, prudence, reliability, and kindness instead of how social they are or if they made a good impression at that job interview. These things matter for the success of the individual as well as the success of society in the long run.