Sir Godfrey Gregg OHPM, ROMC
Character is not something we think about very often. Not directly.
Indirectly, we think about it all the time. We have to deal with the character of every person we meet, work with, or date, with every relative we keep in contact with, or who had a hand in our up-bringing. We are affected by the characters of our leaders, our law enforcers, our local business people, corporate managers, advertisers, people who turn to crime, people who choose to look the other way.
Character is who we are — but in a real sense it shows who we choose to be. It is something we develop in life. Genetics provide the groundwork, but there are many intersections on the road of life. The directions we choose decides our entire future.
Character consists of those attributes which adhere to us as individuals. We see these traits everyday. We tend to think of them as parts of a particular personality. The word personality, however, seems fixed in stone. Character is something we build with each decision that we make. It is expressed in our actions.
It used to be that the idea of a noble character was held in high esteem. It consisted of a high degree of self control, honesty, politeness, bravery, generosity, thoughtfulness, and personal strength. Such ideals influence culture in a positive direction. People use them in developing their own characters, which then provide a social commonality of ideals.
What do we have today? Decades of embracing the anti-hero have weakened our concept of character ideals. We still hold in reverence such cultural giants as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., but we fail to reach for their high ideals. Society does not even call for us to do so. It is the system that’s supposed to make things work, and guarantee certain rights. Personal integrity is hardly anticipated. We prefer written contracts to handshakes. Since we don’t really ask for bravery from our citizens, cowardice and lack of concern are more acceptable than ever before. As for honesty, consider such late additions to our Twentieth Century vocabulary as: disinformation, spin doctors, virtual reality, and waffling. They give tactical respectability to bending, twisting and even breaking the truth. Criminals don’t even have to take the stand and be questioned in court!
We are warned as children not to trust anyone. The older we get, the more we appreciate that advice. But what does that say of us as a people? How is it that we fail to build characters that are trustworthy and heroic, dedicated to what is true and good? How is it that we put more time into looking for angles than in making sure that what we do is right? How is it that we do not experience outrage in the face of political dishonesty, but shrug it off as the nature of the beast?
The society we live in reflects who we are. We have no one else to blame for its shortcomings. We change it for the better only by changing ourselves.