The Road to Character

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Is it just me or are you also sick of people chasing likes?

Of people showing off their “perfect” lives on Instagram, boosting their all-star profiles on LinkedIn, while sharing obsessive rants on Twitter?

We live in a visibility culture where we’re constantly evaluating ourselves and others, based on some silly selfies and well-posed background photos.

And it’s hurtful. Especially for teenagers.

Research shows that social media affect our wellbeing. A study found that the use of multiple social media platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults than time spent online.

These platforms provide ample room for cyberbullying since we don’t see the person we’re insulting.

The real you — your struggles, challenges, all that messy stuff that makes you human — is hidden from plain view.

So, what’s the antidote to this superficial world of likes?

The answer may surprise you.

Personality versus character: what’s the difference?

The personal growth literature is made up of two camps: the personality school and the character ethic.

You’re probably already familiar with the personality school: it’s the type of books that tell you how to “win friends and influence people”. If only you know the right tips, tricks and techniques, you can get what you want in life.

The character ethic suggests a different approach.

Sure, all those tricks and techniques can be useful, but it’s more important to know your core values, who you wish to be, and cultivating the right habits and routines. It’s based on established principles, which are summed up in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 

The characher ethic is not very popular in our Big Me era of social media. It’s not the quick and easy fix many people hope for. It won’t guarantee you any instant results.

Indeed, you may never get any recognition for your work on your character, but you do it anyway because you feel called to do it.

And that’s the crucial difference between the two schools of thought.

The long (and windy) road to character

David Brooks’ book The Road to Character shares several useful ideas on how to live a more meaningful life.

He notes that people in past eras asked a different set of questions than what we do today. Rather than “finding your passion” and organising your life like a business plan, he suggests we take inspiration from American sociologist and workers-rights advocate Francis Perkins as well as Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl.

Stop asking “What do I want out of life?” and instead ask:

What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do?

In other words, we don’t create our own lives; we are summoned by it. The important answers are not found inside, they are found outside.

Brooks points out that this perspective begins with an awareness that the world has existed long before you and will last long after you, and that by the brief span of life you’ve been thrown by fate, by history, by chance, by evolution, or by God into a specific place with specific problems and needs.

Your job is to figure out a few things:

  • What does this environment need in order to be made whole?
  • What is it that needs repair?
  • What tasks are lying around waiting to be performed?

The novelist Frederick Buechner put it this way:

At what points do my talents and deep gladness meet the world’s deep need?

By asking these questions, you go beyond yourself and start building your character.

Why character beats personality every day of the week

The mental and moral qualities you develop over time will guide you through life. A person with character has something to fall back on.

Be like a tree that stands firmly rooted in the ground, ready to weather the inevitable storms that will come your way. Don’t put up a fake façade that nobody believes in anyway.

Instead, keep it real and have the courage to ask yourself the bigger questions.

Go beyond yourself and make yourself useful. Have fun. And don’t worry so much about the damn likes.

If you enjoyed this article, read this next: How to Develop a Learning Lifestyle. 

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2 responses to “The Road to Character”

  1. Louise Avatar

    Wonderful post Olle, thank you. I feel a curiosity being woken up from reading this. I want to explore this further.

    1. Olle Lindholm Avatar

      That’s great to hear. Happy exploration, Louise! Thanks for commenting.

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