Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Character v. Personality

As I'm sure you can tell, if you've been reading this blog, I've been thinking alot about "character" for quite awhile. Is the pain that I'm in changing my character? And if so, in what way? And can I choose the way that it changes me? Or is it up to fate which way my character changes and which parts of it change? What will the end result be, when, or if, I am ever released from this suffering? Will it be worth it?

Yousaf Karsh was a photographer. He was born in 1908 and grew up during the Armenian Massacres, until he was brought to Canada, by an uncle, in 1928. His take on character is, "Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness."

That's a very significant and profound statement. When you learn logic, one of the tests you learn to find fallacic statements is to turn a statement around and see it the opposite. So, to take this statement and do flip it would be to say that, without Darkness, character cannot develop. There is no other way that true character can develop other than through suffering. If I haven't suffered, my character hasn't developed and I'm simply imitating the way that others whom I admire or love behave. That's not true character. That's counterfeit, and what we'd call "personality" or "charysma". The problem with imitation is that, often, their vices as well as their beatitudes become yours, just as if you were forging a painting. It's not original and a studied expert can easily see through it with only a few tests. Once put under the microscope, all the "sins" show through. You didn't go through the toil, angst, patience and persistence, the
frustration that the artist went through. You fail the test miserably and usually publicly.
Character is owned. Charysma and personality are fleeting, coming and going like a chameleon or a shadow. You are like a parasite, feeding off of another's product, rather than an independent organism with your own will to act.

Abraham Lincoln said it like this, "Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."

If this is true, then personality is like it's leaves. They can be blown around by the wind, falling to the ground without a fight. Sheep have personality. They're cute and fuzzy and conjure up warm images from childhood, and they are reactive. They will panic when a wild animal comes near. A shepherd is not reactive. He is active. Instead of running away from danger, he is bold and faces it. He always takes the offensive. He doesn't listen to his panicking sheep, saying to himself," Everyone else is running, so should I." Instead, he faces the danger head on with a plan of attack and reflexes ready from practice and mental preparation, ready for battle and whatever fears that rise up in him are squelched, because he knows his purpose, the reason he is is to care for and protect the flock. The sheep wouldn't need him if they had character. This is why character in a leader is extremely important. Character protects. Personality is temporary, changes it's colors and fades with the seasons. But the tree always remains. When all is said and done, the only truly faithful and eternal lover you have is your character.

It seems that in spite of what I want, Character is teaching me, forced upon me without my permission. As Ralph Waldo Emerson has said, "Character teaches above our wills." I would like to add that it is often taught despite of our wills.

I see all the flaws in my character-impatience, resentment, giving up, unforgiveness, did I mention impatience? (It's my biggest fault), pride (another biggie, that I have in common with all of mankind), to name a few. I am sure that I will find many, many more as time marches on. Would I have seen clearly these vices if I had not had this experience with Darkness? Would I have wanted to?

Character is like the beam from a lighthouse. It goes out from you and illuminates everything around you. You see the truth when you have a strong, unyielding and just character. Likewise, that lumination is seen by others and they are drawn to you during their own storms. Character gives you the firmness and fortitude to weather life's storms, so that no matter how great the waves, or how heavy they are, and how many pummel against you, you will remain standing, solid.

Does that mean that I remain unchanged? No. Just like a rock is tossed about in the sea and finally deposited in the sand on the shore. Over time, the edges are softened and then the sand irritates the rock and chafes it, until the rock has turned to glass. But, a solid rock, doesn't break. It changes, but it doesn't break.

Character and Courage seem to be inseperable. Best friends. Brothers, even. I think that without courage you cannot allow yourself the space for your character to grow. And, without Character, you cannot possibly be courageous, because, like quicksand, you'll collapse in the first rain that falls upon you. Personality can be deceptive that way. When you see it, it seems like it's the real thing and not dangerous. You may not even realize that what you've relied on is
personality until you're up to your waist in it. And by that time, you realize that you're not prepared for the worst, yet it's there. Funny thing about quicksand is that the more frantic you get and struggle, the faster it pulls you under.

Until Character is tried, we don't know what the result of it is. "One never gets to know a person’s character better than by watching his behavior during decisive moments.... It is
always only danger which forces the most deeply hidden strengths and abilities of a human being to come forth
." Stefan Zweig (18811942), Austrian writer. And haven't we seen that poignantly outlined against the darkness during the recent Tsunami event in South Asia?

Fortunately, Character doesn't only illuminate the negatives, but it illuminates everything in your life and that includes your virtues as well. I wonder if Character is a by product of Truth? Is it a cousin to love?

"...and on our character we build our destiny." Henry Hancock, Dean, St Mark’s Cathedral


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