Character is a vague concept in today’s culture. We ascribe to the ideal, but little of us actually know what it means. I know this because many people talk of character and personality as being the same thing. The difference couldn’t be farther apart.
Personality is what you are born with, something you can’t lose. Character is something you develop, something you can lose.
Character is the ethical qualities and behaviors that make you different. It is the foundation of who you are. Without it, you are mastered by your circumstances and troubles. But with it, you control how your circumstances turn out. You control how you will respond to the trials of life without letting them define you.
Basically, character is what allows you to live intentionally in every arena of life.
Yet, if we want to live with character, we need to know what that life looks like.
In the past, we’ve made character sound too complex. But living with character is actually simpler than it sounds. Here are the three marks of a character-driven life:
1. You believe in something.
Today, we have commitment issues. We want to accept all things but not really believe in anything. To believe in something is to commit to an idea, and if we’re honest, not many people today want to commit to ideas. They would rather keep their beliefs separate from what they do in the world.
But to have a character-driven life, you must believe in something. You must have a worldview in which you filter your life through. Without beliefs making sense of your life, you have no foundation or standard moral principles shaping who you are. You instead have a bunch of good ideas saying conflicting things.
You must commit to a single worldview. Otherwise, you have no foundation for your character to build on.
2. You apply those beliefs.
Beliefs mean nothing if they are not taken out of the ethereal realm and put into practice. If they don’t affect how you act in the world, they are just mere decorations making you look good.
A life of character is not a life that simply believes, but a life that knows how to put those beliefs into practice. This is how you use and exercise character—you practice your beliefs in every day life. Doing so will strengthen the muscles of your character and give you an even stronger foundation to fall back on when life gets difficult.
Many of us like to compartmentalize our beliefs from our daily life. But this becomes a problem when our beliefs can’t inform our daily life. A healthy worldview is one that sheds light on everything you do in your life. Make sure you’re letting your beliefs do that.
3. You devote yourself to the common good.
A character is a positive ideal. By having character, we can stand above our circumstances without having them define us. But having character is not only to benefit our self. If it is a positive ideal, our character is going to impact the lives around us as well.
Selflessness is the defining mark of character. If you develop character to simply benefit yourself, then you have no character. This is because we are each born with the potential and capability to serve our neighbors. We weren’t designed for isolation; we were designed for community. This means character is something that’ll allow us to impact our world even more.
This is the most simplified definition I could give for a character-driven life. So now ask yourself: do you believe in something that makes sense of everything in your world? Are you applying those beliefs into your daily actions? Are those beliefs pushing you toward the greater good?
Of course, with these questions are different measures as to how much you believe or how selfless you are. If you find yourself on the low end of these measures, you probably have a low-level of character. If so, work to refine your life.
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Photography by Mikaela Hamilton