Cultivating Character

Following from last week’s post, I’ve been thinking about what we grow in our lives. We develop skills, we gain experience, but we grow character.

The character I grow is not just about me. Yes, there is self-awareness and self-regulation in this picture; I can’t cultivate character until I know myself (strengths and weaknesses) and develop the skill of thinking before I act. Character is rooted in who you ARE. You can’t be true to your character if you don’t know who you are.

However, character is not all about me: social awareness and empathy also have an important place in character. These traits impact our hearts more than our heads, and we need both to cultivate character effectively.

Character encompasses what you believe, and what you do as well as what you say and think. When all these factors align, we recognize your integrity; you are the same on the inside as you appear to be on the outside.

We develop this consistency by listening well and observing the details of the challenges we face, especially interpersonal challenges. This is how we learn. Integrity also includes the courage not to stray from your principles. The unprincipled leader may get ahead, but they also get beheaded by their lack of integrity in the long run.

Another word that you will find growing in the soil of character is Accountability. Not simply answering to a superior for a wrong action, but having the courage to recognize your own mistakes, and the humility to address the consequences with those affected by your failure.

Many of these character-cultivating choices are small. Each one alone seems insignificant. They resemble the acorn that grows into an oak; simple choices and small steps in the areas of character, integrity, and accountability will eventually multiply into a strong foundation that becomes visible when tested by major events. To quote Winston Churchill: "Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."

What choices will you make today to cultivate character?

Who else needs to be in that picture?