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  • David Horst

Why character matters


As we recover and heal from four years of an incompetent, corrupt, and cruel president and White House administration, we are urgently reminded that personal character matters more than ever.

Let’s consider what you and I can do, as patriotic citizens and people of faith, to reclaim and renew our personal character and contribute to the nation’s recovery and healing.

So we ask first: What constitutes character? What are its key attributes? How do we not only think about character but put character into practice so that we, each of us, can contribute to our national recovery and healing?

What comes to mind first is honesty. We must be honest with ourselves and with others. Not a harsh honestly but a loving honesty. Not an honesty that judges but one that rebuilds and repairs relationships.

Another attribute of character is integrity: Doing not the expedient thing but the right thing grounded in strong ethical principles and moral rectitude.

Honesty and integrity: They’re the two legs of a person’s character — but I think there are a few more:

What about humility? — keeping our pride in check and putting others’ needs and feelings first.

What about lovingkindness? — showing care toward each other and compassion toward all not despite our differences but because of them.

What about equanimity and forbearance? — maintaining serenity in anxious times and persevering even with the slowness of social and political change.

What about generosity? — giving more that we get, being respectful toward others, and believing that another’s gain is our gain too.

What about reality and truth? — grounding in the world as it is and dreaming of what the world may yet be; not allowing beliefs to harden into intolerance or ideas into unbending ideology.

Finally, what about grace? — trusting that when the long day is over, after we’ve done all we can do, we accept both our successes and failures with gratitude and allow divine grace to guide us into the morning of a new day.

What is character? Character is rooted in basic honesty and integrity; flourishes with lovingkindness, humility, equanimity and forbearance, and generosity; and comes to fruition in the truth and grace of this broken but holy world.

Next, we ask: How do reclaim and renew our personal character not only in thought and intention but in word and deed?

I’d suggest some practice, something like the Merriam-Webster word-of-the-day, but more than expanding our vocabulary you and I might enhance our character traits with a daily practice of character-building. Call it “habits of character,” a practice that is both hard-headed and heart-centered.

How about trying a daily practice of honesty? Something like this: “Today, in my interaction with family members, friends, or colleagues, I’m going to find an opportunity to speak honestly but kindly. I’ll make a mental note, reflect on the interaction at the end of the day, maybe journal it, and then ask for divine guidance to help me sustain the practice of honesty so that it becomes a daily habit.”

Or integrity: “I’m going to do the right thing, even if it’s hard, even if I don’t benefit directly, even if I appear vulnerable. Again, I’ll make a mental note, reflect on the interaction, journal it, and then ask for divine guidance.”

A similar daily practice for the other attributes of character that I’ve named — and others you might name yourself — would work as well.

Remember the maxim from Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “character is destiny” — who and what we are matters as much or more than anything else in the trajectory of our lives.


Photo: Wickham Park, Manchester and East Hartford, Conn.

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© 2020 by DAVID M. HORST