It’s been said that personality is how we show up every day, but character is how we show up on our worst day. If that’s true, then it behooves us to think about each of the two and to understand their impacts on our decision making and ultimately on our lives.
Personality is about our preferences expressed. It is the set of default actions we take when we are at equilibrium, when we are able to behave as we’d like to.
Our preferences are ever- evolving, and are a product of many complex inputs. There have been many studies and books written on the topic (a great one I read recently is Wanting by Luke Burgis) showing that as much as we’d like to claim originality and uniqueness for our desires, many of them are in fact mimetic (fancy word for copied).
Turns out human beings are great imitators. This is something we start immediately at conception, and is something we carry with us all the way into adulthood. It is a fact that is at once both our greatest strength to be capitalized upon and our largest weakness that can be (and is constantly being) exploited.
It is the reason social media products have had such a meteoric climb, and why many experts in human psychology, productivity, social sciences, and education alike agree in limiting (or- even removing altogether) this form of input in our lives.
Briefly explained, the theory of mimetic desire states that human beings seek models to imitate and to serve as our guide for navigating the world. As children, we imitate our parents and are strongly impacted by them. As we grow and are exposed to more complex interactions, we naturally adopt other models into our lives seamlessly and often unconsciously and unknowingly.
These models affect our preferences and by extension our personalities. We must therefore be incredibly diligent and vigilant in choosing and identifying our models as they have great impact on how we show up and interact on a regular basis!
Character on the other hand is not an expression of our desire, but rather of our values. It is how we show up on our worst day when we’re out of steam and don’t have the energy to put up our facades and our defenses. It is what we do when we believe no one else is watching.
We should first note that often what we attribute to character is actually personality. The majority of our relationships don’t have the depth such that true character shows up. Our observations and experiences of others may give us glimpses into their values which in turn give us something to base our expectations of their character, but most of the time our brains want confirmation bias.
It is therefore critically important that we pay attention not to the surface level things and interactions that occupy the majority of our regular observations but rather to the typically less obvious signs and signals of underlying character.
They say that you can learn much of a person’s character not by how they treat their peers or superiors but rather by how they treat those who in some form are beneath them. This can be how they treat their subordinates, people that seduce them (waiters, flight attendants, grocery baggers etc), or people that they are ahead of in life (children, college students, new hives etc) .
These things are worth paying attention to in the people we surround ourselves with because we become like those are associate ourselves with. We mimic the behaviors of people we like and admire, and for better or worse we will typically grow to admire those we spend a lot of time with.
The million dollar question then, is how do we impact our character?
1. Surround yourself with people of great character.
Remember that great character is more rare than great personality. Therefore when you find someone of great character, over index on that. Keeping in mind that life’s a journey, not a destination, it therefore behooves us to find folks that journey well.
There are many who are quite enjoyable to do the good times of life with, who are great at enjoying the shared times of levity together with, but there are far fewer who will journey well with you.
2. Accept the fact that hardships will come. Learn from them.
The Good Book tells us that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and that “we rejoice in our suffering because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance (produces] proven character” (Romans 5:3).
Realize that trials are a part of life, and are a great tool for us to develop our character. So don’t avoid them. Don’t try to minimize or sweep them under a rug. Lean into Them.
Difficult, I know. But worth it.
3. Read. Study. Learn.
By immersing yourself in the thoughts and efforts of others, and by regularly thinking about and attempting to apply the things you learn, you will slowly but surely move the needle of your own character.
Finally, remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Be ready for the long haul and keep that perspective in mind. My hope for you is that you run a good race, and that you run with a great team of coaches, supporters, and cheerleaders who not only help to shape your already wonderful personalities but who labor with you to refine your character as well. I love you boys!