Sunday, Jan 14, 2018: “Questions of Value”

 

St. Mark’s Adult Forum
14 January 2018

 

Questions of Value*

 

‘The really fundamental questions of our lives are not questions of fact or finance but questions of value.’   Patrick Grim, PhD.

 

Character

 

Exactly what is character? The sort of character we hope our kids and grandkids develop. The best place to start is with a blanket definition.

 

Character: The complex of mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual; strength and originality in a person’s nature; an exemplar – the embodiment or personification – of virtue or vice; a person’s good reputation.

On its face, character is a morally neutral term. We use the term to describe a person’s most prominent attributes; the sum total ofthe features and traits that form an individual’s nature.  Every person, therefore, comes to possess a character. But that would include both scoundrels like Charles Manson and saints like Mother Teresa. As a result, character quickly takes on a moral dimension.

Character is both formed and revealed by how one deals with everyday situations as well as with extraordinary pressures and temptations. For instance, the way we treat people we think can’t help or hurt us – like housekeepers, waiters, and secretaries – tells more about our character than how we treat people we think are important. How we behave when we think no one is looking or when we don’t think we will get caught more accurately portrays our character than what we say or do in service of our reputations.

 

Question: Obviously, character spans a broad spectrum. What constitutes a good character?

 

When we say a person exhibits ‘good character’, we are making a value or moral judgement. Clearly, people of good character need not be perfect. Instead, we look to see if they consistently exhibit worthy traits – integrity, courage, compassion and so on – when it counts. We believe people of good character are guided by ethical principles even when it’s physically dangerous or detrimental to their careers, social standing, or economic well-being. They do the right thing even when it costs more than they want to pay. They rely on ‘moral fortitude’ – one’s ability to discern, trust, and stand behind one’s moral convictions. Of course, our assessment of a person’s character is an opinion and it isn’t always right.

 

Some view character as a mosaic of character traits.  One source offers ‘Six Pillars of Character’, values that transcend cultural, religious, and socioeconomic differences. Those six values are: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. The ‘Boy Scout Law’ addresses character. A Scout is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. A host of other positive character traits have been identified (see attachment). As you look over the list, you may judge some traits more important than others depending on the social context you find yourself. Is anything missing? You may observe the absence of certain traits; for example, those that reflect religious virtues such as piety, obedience, prudence, charity, humility, and others.

 

Question: How might one acquire a good character?

 

No one is born with good character; it’s not a hereditary trait. And it isn’t determined by a single noble act. The core of one’s character is neither innate nor bestowed; it is developed. It doesn’t come easy, it takes practice. Character is established by conscientious adherence to moral values, not by lofty rhetoric or good intentions. In other words, good character is ethics in action; to be effective and worthy of praise, it must become habitual.

Question: Is there a difference between character and reputation?

 

IBecause the shape of a tree’s shadow is determined by the angle of light and the perspective of the observer, it’s not a perfect image of the tree. In the same way, reputation is not always an accurate reflection of character. Oscar Wilde once said, “Sincerity is one of the most important qualities in a person. And once you can fake that you have it made.” This cynical quip explains why some people are able to create a much better reputation than they deserve. By the same token, there are others who deserve better reputations than they have. Whether fair or not, the indisputable truth is that people, companies and institutions are likely to be judged by their last worst act. A word to the wise: A lifetime of building good will can be lost in a moment.

 

Question: Do any examples come to mind?

 

Character building demands perseverance. 2 As the British writer Henry Fairlie put it, “If we acknowledge that our inclination to sin is part of our natures, and that we will never wholly eradicate it, there is at least something for us to do in our lives that will not in the end seem just futile or absurd.” Moral realists recognize this fact. You can see evidence of the inner struggle in such people’s journals. They are exultant on days when they win some small victory over selfishness and hard-heartedness. They are despondent on days when they let themselves (or others) down. They strive to rise above their circumstances; to place the higher thing above the lower thing. The road to character is an unending climb.

 

Our challenge: We all have “a moral responsibility to be more moral every day; to inch ahead each day. In doing so, we build character.

 

Question: We don’t have to go it alone. To help us fulfill our moral responsibility, to whom or what might we turn?

 

 

 

 

 

* Patrick Grim, ‘Questions of Value’, The Teaching Company, 2005

I Michael Josephson, Character- What Is It and Why Is It important, 2015

2 David Brooks, The Road to Character, Penguin Random House, 2015

 

 

Accountable

Adaptable

Adventurous

Alert

Ambitious

Appropriate

Assertive

Astute

Attentive

Authentic

Aware

Bravery

Calm

Candid

Capable

Certain

Charismatic

Clear

Collaborative

Committed

Communicator

Compassion

Comradeship

Connected

Conscious

Considerate

Consistent

Contributes

Cooperative

Courageous

Creative

Curious

Dedicated

Determined

Diplomatic

Directive

Disciplined

Dynamic

Easygoing

Effective

Efficient

Empathetic

Empowers

Energetic

Enthusiastic

Ethical

Excited

Expressive

Facilitates

Fairness

Faithful

Fearless

Flexible

Friendly

Generative

Generosity

Gratitude

Happy

Hard Working

Honest

Honorable

Humorous

Imaginative

Immaculate

Independent

Initiates

Innovative

Inquiring

Inquiring

Integrates

Integrity

Intelligent

Intentional

Interested

Intimate

Joyful

Knowledgeable

Leading

Listener

Lively

Logical

Loving

Loyal

Manages Time Well

Networker

Nurturing

Open-Minded

Optimism

Organized

Patient

Peaceful

Planner

Playful

Poised

Polite

Powerful

Practical

Presents Self Well

Proactive

Problem-Solver

Productive

Punctual

Reliable

Resourceful

Responsible

Self-confident

Self-generating

Self-reliant

Sense of Humor

Sensual

Serves Others

Sincere

Skillful

Spiritual

Spontaneous

Stable

Strong

Successful

Supportive

Tactful

Trusting

Trustworthy

Truthful

Versatile

Vibrant

Warm

Willing

Wise

Zealous