So, testing reveals character, and repeated testing builds character.
The same way physical testing – an exercise routine, for example – conditions our bodies for a higher and more efficient level of exertion, so mental and emotional testing can build strength and resilience in those areas for greater exertion.
I guess we might ask “so what? Why? Who cares?”
Well, that depends on what we want for ourselves.
I was listening to the radio in Brisbane this week on my travels and heard a debate on the results of a survey that indicated that only 8% of Australians are interested in self betterment in the workplace. The presenters were talking about being “happy in a rut”! The national averages in the UK, New Zealand etc. were stated as being closer to 20-25%.
That got me thinking. And first off, let me say I am NOT picking on Australians. I think even 25% is not a great number, and also the survey does not cover what is happening outside of work, so it’s not necessarily an accurate statistic overall… (As a South African-born Kiwi, I think I am doing a great job of being fair right now 🙂 )
It is widely commented that “successful people move on from unsuccessful friends and friendships”. We tend to surround ourselves with “like” people. So, maybe, “people in a rut”, also surround themselves with “people in a rut”? It’s easier. More comfortable and familiar, maybe and less challenging.
But the danger is that in giving ourselves a breather from constant growth and development, we will actually start a cycle that prevents us from ever achieving it! Success self-perpetuates, and so does a lack of success. So we need to deliberately choose what is around us, with the future in mind! We need to surround ourselves with things and people that inspire us to greater heights, that stretch us so that we grow. That don’t permit excuses.
If we take the short cut to feeling good about ourselves, by surrounding ourselves with shiny things bought on credit, and friends whom we are earning more than, and more successful than, then for a time we might enjoy some false sense of achievement. But in reality we are just making sure that our edge dulls, and our ambition fades, and our complacency erodes our capacity to overcome.
Health is not just a physical thing. In fact, health is more spiritual, mental and emotional than we probably realize. We focus on physical health because it’s more obvious and easier, and we know a bit about mental health because it get a lot of airtime nowadays. We understand staying sharp mentally, and we understand dealing with stress a bit, and we maybe even know some stuff about coping with anxiety and depression.
But the concepts of spiritual and emotional health seems foreign, even obscure and vague. What are they anyway? And how do we get them? It’s not like there are obvious spiritual and emotional “gyms” out there, where we can go stretch ourselves and grow…
And this “character” stuff?
Well, “character” is defined as “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”, or “The combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another” and lastly “Moral or ethical strength”. I like that one the best.
So character is an alloy. It is a time sensitive, heat treated blend of qualities… and it creates our mental, emotional and spiritual strength.
And we know that having character is good. It is desirable, laudable and commendable.
But we don’t start out with character. We start out with a blank slate, and we acquire character. It’s not rocket science. Character is formed like any other alloy. It takes raw material and heat – lots of heat – and time. Time for impurities to surface, and be cleansed away. In ancient times, metal was deemed pure when the craftsman could see his own reflection in the surface of the molten metal.
The dirt, contained deep within the raw ore, rises through the molten ore and sits on top, clouding the surface. After repeated melting and cleansing, there is no dirt left, and only the smooth surface of the molten metal is left. Nowadays we have all sorts of spectral analysis and hoo-hah. It works, but it lacks the poetic truth of the old ways.
Metal is placed in a fire for a purpose. The craftsman has a goal, a design, a thing of beauty he wishes to create. We have a purpose. Whoever we are, there is purpose. Maybe some of us are like the 92%, simply ok with the status quo. But we can choose to be in the 8%; each one of us, until the 8% becomes the 10%, the 15%, the 25% and then hopefully more and more until we all want more for ourselves.
We, as beautiful, wonderful people, have a responsibility to ourselves and to all the people who interact with us, to be as fit for purpose as we can be. That means, simply put, building our characters. Finding the emotional, mental and spiritual gyms where we can stretch ourselves and grow. And maybe, just maybe, they aren’t so hard to find, if we just start looking!
Her are some ideas to get us thinking about “character gyms”
Ever heard or read a news article and thought you might want to know a bit more? Go read. Find out stuff. Build up a solid, well researched opinion. Test it against others. But be gracious about it – no-one likes a know-it-all.
Ever seen a wounded person, and avoided empathy because it hurts and makes your world uncomfortable? Stop, go over, and give that person your heart. Hug them cry with them, and learn their journey. Leave them feeling not-as-alone as before. Repeat.
Ever shared your world with someone but only on your terms? Lay down your demands, and give your heart to prioritizing the other person. Maybe it’s a spouse, a child, a friend, colleague. Let your world be enriched by a diversity you have been holding out against, for fear you would be diminished by it. You will not. I promise.
Ever wondered which religion is right? Which moral viewpoint on the world is valid and which is invalid? Talk to people, become a student of perspectives and ideas. Question. Read. Build up an reasoned point of view.
We can put ourselves in a forge. We can take our own raw material, and heat it. Burn out the dirt. Become a bit more robust in our thinking, a bit more resilient in our empathy, a bit more wise in our journey. We can find our forges, and deliberately place ourselves within them. We can repeat this process until the end of time. Each time we will be better for it. Every time, our character will be refined and more precious, like gold refined in a fire.
We are all unique, and we will always be unique. That’s not the issue. But let’s be unique people who have chosen to be increasingly resilient, empathic, kind and good. More faithful and wise, today, than yesterday. And better tomorrow than today.
It’s not up to anyone else. It can’t be. Let’s choose a daily walk that builds our own character in ourselves. Then, when the fires of testing come – and they will – what is revealed will be good to see.