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Forging the sword of character

02 Jan

We are dynamic beings. That often means we are attracted to the paths of least resistance, the easy roads, the familiar places, the old habits and traditions. We cling to prejudices and stereotypes, to save ourselves the hassle and effort of having to figure everything out anew, every day, hour, minute and second. In a way this property of our existence keeps us sane. But often it deprives us of amazing learning experiences.

What make someone a great person? Is it his possessions? Her personality? His good deeds? Her career and achievements? I would surmise that greatness is best measured by looking at the whole person throughout his/her lifetime. Where s/he has been, where s/he is and where s/he hopes to be. Since we all have the same origin, what determines the greatness of a person is the journey traveled, and the direction for the future.

But that’s a very simplistic view. Life is more complicated. One may shine with greatness one evening, and behave appallingly the very next morning. However, a thread of behavioral consistency is usually what defines people, and that consistency is based on moral character.

Moral. That word so many shun these days. Sounds so much like morality. Why attach it to a word like ‘character’? Simply because they are inseparable. I think of character as the product and moral values as the process. Or rather, moral decisions, choices based on moral values and principles. Your moral character is your source of inspiration in times of trial, it is what guides your difficult decisions, and it is even what makes you who you are. Moral character is built every day, each time you make a decision, no matter how small it may be. Depending on how you build it, it will lead you to make bad, good or the best decisions at key points in your life. When issues such as “Who shall I put first, my family or my friends?”, or “Should I support my friend in her decisions to have an abortion, or oppose her choice at the risk of damaging our friendship?”, your moral character will in a great measure determine your choices in these situations.

I use the analogy of sword-making because I think it is very fitting to moral character. You start with a lump of inert, ugly metal, and in a very, very lengthy process you heat it up, beat the heck out of it in repetitive hammer strokes, re-heat it and beat it again, until you get the right shape. That takes a very long time, in which time every stroke of the hammer is important, but not critical. What is critical is consistency in smiting the metal, and that consistency must be based on sound principles of blacksmithing.

Likewise, our small, seemingly insignificant daily choices are often based on much large, super-ordinate principles and values. When I decide whether to pray or check my emails first thing in the morning, I am not making a critical decision, it may even be considered as trivial. However, it is based upon a principle that is extremely important to me: Whose communication is more important to me? God’s or other people’s? Each time I make a “trivial” decision, I should think about the underlying principle at stake. My decision then is an additional stroke on the hot metal of my moral character, either properly or poorly done. Consistently making the right decision strengthens my moral character, so that when a critical decision comes that is based on the same underlying principle, making the right choice will be much easier. Such a critical choice could be whether to accept an assignment to go on a 3-year mission for my Church or accept a promotion from my employer that requires more of my time.

Moral character takes a lifetime to perfect, but unlike sword-making, you have to use it all throughout your life. What is important in this analogy is that the process is slow and made up of innumerable small choices, guided by sound moral principles. Here is a list of the principles that guide me in my every day choices:

*  I am a child of God and He loves me
*  I must nourish my Spirit as well as my body if I am to be at peace within myself
*  I have a purpose in life: to help others learn of the love God has for them, to partake of that love myself, and to return to live with Him
*  Honesty always supersedes deception
*  Happiness comes from doing what’s right, in all circumstances
*  Women are equal in worth, origin and divine potential to men. I believe they often exceed men in sensitivity, love and moral courage
*  Pleasure is fleeting, and satisfies the soul about as much as a piece of chocolate satisfies the body. Once you’re done, you’ve got nothing to show for it, except extra baggage, and often less money in your pocket.
*  Bringing children into the world and bringing them up is one of the greatest joys of life. It is also one of the most difficult.
*  The experience of Joy cannot exist without the experience of Sorrow. The extent to which you experience the negative often determines how much of the positive you can enjoy. But your attitude determines how much you benefit from trials and challenges.

There are many more, the list could go on and on!

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