“There is but one quality necessary for the perfect understanding of character, one quality that, if man have it, he may dare to judge—that is, omniscience. Most people study character as a proofreader pores over a great poem: his ears are dulled to the majesty and music of the lines, his eyes are darkened to the magic imagination of the genius of the author; that proofreader is busy watching for an inverted comma, a mis-spacing, or a wrong-font letter. He has an eye trained for the imperfections, the weaknesses. Men who pride themselves on being shrewd in discovering the weak points, the vanity, dishonesty, immorality, intrigue and pettiness of others think they understand character. They know only part of character—they know only the depths to which some men may sink; they know not the heights to which some men may rise. An optimist is a man who has succeeded in associating with humanity for some time without becoming a cynic.” ~ William George Jordan
There is a chasm of difference between the letter and the spirit of the laws of living. Most people content themselves with a surface understanding of the deeper matters of life. Whether they feel themselves too busy and too tired to invest the time and mental energies required to bridge the gap between letter and spirit or insufficiently educated for such a task, they seem to prefer the momentary contentment of ignorance to the lasting happiness of gnosis.
Take, for example, the matter of character. A man of true character is one who has worked to the end that his inner perfection is regularly made manifest in and through his heart, mind and body. Such a man is undaunted by the difficulties of life. He meets, or perhaps better put, relishes the challenges that come his way and he is strengthened by every turn of events rather than depleted by them. This is an enlightened state of being.
Those lacking character tend to be obsessed with the letter of the laws which govern it. They mimic and emulate those men and women of character whom they admire and appreciate, seeking to assemble the various elements of character as one would sew a patchwork quilt. Rather than learning to let the spirit of true character emerge from within in relation to their field of responsibility, they seek to fabricate the appearance of character. Unfortunately, this approach tends to unravel when the pressure comes on.
The fascination with scandal in today’s media has led to a state where people tend to be much more familiar with deficiencies of character than they are with its presence. They pick apart the leaders they elect, criticize those around them and some even go to the extreme of self-deprecation rather than recognizing and emphasizing the strengths of those around them and in themselves.
Never forget: what you emphasize in your world tends to grow.
That is why fear is so dangerous. Fear is a powerful form of emphasis. It is an investment in the very matters which you wish to be freed from. It is a spiritual form of throwing good money after bad. The same goes for hatred. Hatred is an investment in that which you abhor. What you emphasize in your world tends to grow.
Those of true character refuse to waste any of their energies on such trivialities. Men and women of true character dedicate themselves to the discovery and revelation of the heights to which men may rise, while strategically downplaying (as much as possible) the weaknesses in the people and circumstances around them.
Zealously adhering to the letter of the laws of character will only get you so far in the cultivation of your inner wisdom, just as painstakingly complying with the laws of a state will only give you a limited perspective on the spirit of a great nation. Rely too heavily on the letter and ignore the spirit and you will fail. Ignore the letter of the law for an obsession with the spirit and you will likewise come up short. Both must be respected for there to be a true and permanent development of character in you.
6 thoughts on “True Character”
This makes me think of the challenge that our forefathers must have faced when writing the rules that govern our country. As not all men and women are governed by a common inner righteousness, there must be the letter of the law to which we as a nation follow. The founders knew that, and wrote our laws beautifully yet, I wonder if they each wished that the spirit of the law could have taken its place. I sure do. This makes me even more steadfast and determined to meet the challenges of life with largesse and gratitude!
Nice post, I found it very balanced and insightful.
I appreciate the meditation on an omniscient view vs. a myopic one.
The tendency to fix on failure and weakness in others is a well-ingrained defense mechanism. People have been terribly disappointed, often from childhood, seeing icons toppled and ideals overturned. They are terrified even to entertain the possibility of something wonderful in another, because it might turn out, once again, to be a catastrophic letdown.
These childish tensions tend to carry into adulthood and are all too often cemented by a ‘comfort-mania’ where excellence in another is a reminder of one’s own mediocrity and must therefore be nullified at all cost. The beginning of character, surely, must involve the intitiative necessary to reject such personal attitudes, to venture and to rejoice in the beauty, talent and character made manifest in others.
You and Mr. Jordan make excellent observations and I thoroughly enjoy your poetic literary styles, thank you. It’s a delight to read and satisfying to think about.
Individually we don’t create everything that happens to us but I believe we do exert a magnetism in our lives that affects our inclination which at some point creates direction and gains momentum. Our mind and heart are so powerful. Our lack of education as to the power they wield doesn’t mitigate the damage they can do if we misuse them. Unleashing fear or hate in our life is like routinely ingesting poison as we slowly kill ourselves, each system shutting down until our ability to reason is so impaired our life becomes a tortuous convoluted sentence to which we have condemned ourselves. Seeing others and our occasions through the infected eyes of fear and hate immediately alters perspective and renders our contributions unsound. Living our lives as cynics chokes the connection to the spirit of love that would nurture, nourish and fill us with wisdom. These all begin as small choices that become habits then the governing authority in our lives. To undo this requires the same process, it all can change with our small choices today.
This most excellent admonition reminds me of the plagues of hypocrisy that can easily infect human consciousness. Why obsess and emphasize the weaknesses in ourselves? I believe the human being to be, by nature, an optimistic creature – for where do the seemingly indestructible energies of our youth come from? Optimism carried through leads to greatness and goodness, for it emphasizes strength.
The wise instruction contained in “ye who is without fault cast the first stone” reminds me always to check my intentions. I am not above the law, for no one is, for the law serves to condition the spirit to live in harmony with itself. From the micro to the macro, harmony in yourself to harmony in all peoples around the globe. May sound a bit strange and idealistic, but that’s how I see the fulfillment of all the laws of our various sciences and philosophies come together in one accord if peace and optimism is to reign supreme.
Good thoughts to start the day Gregg!