I’ve been contemplating character lately. Not as it pertains to Mickey or Donald. I’m referring to character – as in what you stand for as a human being. To a large extent, your character defines who you truly are. And whether it is good or bad, strong or weak, your character is built over time through the actions and decisions you make.
As a mom, I think about the character of my kids. It’s important to most of us moms and dads. And, although our kids may not ponder it as deeply as we do, it’s important to them as well. Especially as they go out into the real world and forge a way for themselves. You can be smart and athletic and charismatic and good-looking, but if you don’t have (good, strong) character, then none of the other stuff is going to get you anywhere. At least not for long. And at least not anywhere worth going.
I like to hand out advice to my kids like it is candy (while they ignore me like I am an empty Kit Kat wrapper in the middle of the kitchen floor), and have come up with some unsolicited thoughts about character. I put this ever-useful mom information in an acrostic, because I enjoy playing with words almost as much as I enjoy giving my kids advice. Character:
C – Caring. A person of character cares about others in the truest sense. She has the ability to empathize and understand the emotions of others. She is kind not just to people, but animals and Mother Earth. She cares about the world around her.
H – Humble, honest and heartfelt. I couldn’t narrow this one down to just one “H” because they are all key. A person with character approaches life wholeheartedly; he is 100-percent behind the tasks set before him. He is honest in his abilities, humble when faced with difficulties and, more importantly, with successes.
A – Attitude. It makes all the difference in how we see things. A person with a positive attitude can move mountains; someone with a negative attitude gives up before even trying. When a person of great character is faced with a difficult task, her first thought is not, “I can’t,” but “How?”
R – Responsibility. I fear this trait is lacking in our it’s-not-my-fault culture. When we fail a test, it’s most likely because we didn’t study, not because the teacher is out to get us. We will all make mistakes. Owning up to them is part of learning not to make those same mistakes in the future. A person of character takes his responsibilities seriously. He admits when he messes up and then he moves forward.
A – Ambitious actions. Again, I couldn’t pick just one because action and ambition so often go hand in hand. A person of character is not only ambitious, she puts those ambitions into action – most often for the betterment of others, and in the best case scenario tries her best to be anonymous. (There’s another one.)
C – Contributions. A person of character contributes – to the community, family, charities and wherever he is needed. He seeks out opportunities to give to others because time, energy and talent should be shared.
T – Trustworthy. Making good on obligations and commitments is important to a person with great character. She can be trusted to keep a promise. She is loyal to friends and family and is known as a person of her word.
E – Ethical. The dictionary defines this as humane, moral, respectable, decent, honest and noble. I couldn’t have summed it up better myself. A person of character is true to himself while being true to others. He follows the rules. He has a honed moral compass and has it pointed straight in the direction of decency.
R – Respect. A person of character respects others as well as herself. This often involves putting the needs of others before her own. She admires and is grateful for the abilities, talents and achievements of others and demonstrates acceptance of people with differing opinions and beliefs.
Our character determines how we respond to the circumstances in our life. It is the core of what makes us who we are as individuals. As spring blossoms into summer and we see our kids graduate – whether from college, high school or kindergarten – I hope they (and we as parents) are spending as much time and energy building their character as we are with sports teams, summer reading and the multiplication tables. And even more importantly, I hope we all realize we are still building ours.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.