What Is Character?

by Rich Dixon on November 29, 2011

What’s your personal understanding of “character”?

I appreciate questions.

I guess that’s one reason I still love teaching—I enjoy the challenge of creating an environment that fosters open, frank discussion. I value tough, sincere questions even though I often don’t possess answers.

A few weeks ago during Rich’s Ride I tossed out a statement that prompted quite a few comments:

I think God values our character more than our comfort. Character is a long-term issue, and it’s often developed and tested in uncomfortable settings.

A reader sent a great question. “Character is one of those words we use a lot, and I wonder if we agree on what it means. What is character?”

Hmmm…I thought about it a lot during the ride, and I’d like to see what you think of my ideas.

To me, character development rests on at least three factors:

  • Knowledge: understanding the facts of a situation.
  • Discernment: determining the right thing to do based on your knowledge.
  • Skill: the capacity to do it.

Knowledge: It’s not much use wanting to do what’s right if I have no clue about the situation. Character development requires an open mind, a willingness to learn, and the flexibility to adapt as new information develops.

Discernment: I determine my best understanding of what’s right based on available information, input from those I trust, and my own wisdom based on experience and guidance from the Spirit.

Skill: Knowing what’s right isn’t all that helpful unless I develop the skills required to actually do it.

Character: I see character as the willingness to do what’s right. Character development is the lifelong process of growing in knowledge, discernment, and skill, and intentionally nurturing the habit of doing what’s right.

Some will object that we cannot always know the right response in particular circumstances. I agree. It’s rare that we have access to every scrap of  relevant information. Our discernment is colored by personal bias. We can always refine our skills.

Too often these become excuses for failure to act. So perhaps a more workable definition of character might be doing my best to determine what’s right based on available knowledge, and then doing that right thing to the best of my ability.

Will I frequently get it wrong? Of course. Will I fail at times? Certainly. But the real troubles in my life haven’t happened because I didn’t know what to do.

Almost without exception, the significant issues in my life occur when I KNOW what’s right and don’t do it.

I’d like to hear your responses. Is this what character means to you? What would you add?

Please leave a comment here.

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