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Character is created by conflict. The moral person can taste the temptation of immorality. The immoral person considers the moral response. How we respond to that conflict determines character. All individuality is created by our choice between two or more contradictions.

Character is reflective. We define ourselves by who we wish to be and who we hate to be. Hatred’s the better teacher, because it’s easier to identify what we hate. It’s easier to understand that “I don’t like X because he is two-faced” or “I don’t like Y because she lies”. It’s much harder to apply “I admire Z because he is always calm and smiling in every situation”. Z’s lesson is much harder to transplant into our own situation. We learn more from failure – because failure is easier to understand – then we ever learn from success.

Character is a choice. We wield the defence – to avoid doing something undesirable – that to do it would be out of character. Character is presented here as the sum of all our previous choices. We made those choices because they fit how we see the world, assess our options and evaluated their consequence. Sometimes we don’t make the choices consciously, but that doesn’t help us evade consequences.

Character is a lie. Nobody has character. Character is something that we impose on people  – and ourselves  – to make things predictable. That’s not to say that its an inaccurate construct: we can learn a lot from personality and character. It can help us understand and empathise with the people we meet every day. It is a truth that can be taken as read for most people that they will be true to how they have acted before. No matter what Templeton might tell you about stocks, in human beings past action is a sure indicator of future behaviour.

My favourite illustration of this is that people always see other’s choices dictated by their character (i.e. “he’s always so lazy – he never finishes anything on time”) whilst our own actions are always dictated by circumstances (i.e.“wow – this project is huge – its unrealistic for anyone to finish it in this timeframe”).

The decision to assign people a character is not without risk. We treat those risks as non-existent, but that dismissal says a lot about our own world view. Assigning someone a fixed characters is to willingly misunderstand them. It is to reduce the complexity of a human soul to a set of linear axis and coordinates. We treat people simplistically. If you do, you will be shocked when they react unexpectedly. Treating them simplistically ignores their capacity to adapt, learn and grow.

People have characteristics within any given context. They don’t have character.


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