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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Character: A Contemplation

Recently I attended an event held in the school gymnasium of a local school. On one wall was a large banner sign reading “We Build Character”. This caught my attention and I began pondering what building character really meant. Therefore, I embarked on an excursion to learn what building character was about. I have been told that we (collectively) do not know the meaning of our words and I have learned that this is very true.
Using a dictionary and the Internet, I began my search and found a wide range of diverse interpretations of character. From one source I found 10 meanings, while from another source there were 12. When I went to my own New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, I noted there were 16 interpretations of the word character!
There was one definition from this dictionary that I deemed to be quite interesting and that is, a) a mystical symbol or magical emblem; b) a code or cipher. Although this was very enlightening, it didn’t really tell me how to build character. At this point, I will not go into all the remaining definitions and will leave that up to the reader. My contemplation and research was to determine for myself what to build character means.
Taking a strand of character, I began unraveling the aspects of building character. What stood out for me were two words: moral fiber and along with this the word moral. Off I go to determine the meaning of moral and the best I could come up with is that moral means different things to different people, ethnic groups, and segments of a population.
The recent election of a president in the United States indicated that many people polled as they were leaving the voting place, reportedly said that what determined their vote was the moral values of the person or party they voted for. Those are words – from my perspective – that are easy to throw out to an uneducated public who are people who do no research on their own, but depend on advertising and the news media to give them what they deem to be truthful information. Unfortunately this is prevalent in this country.
What do we build character on? To build anything, it must have a foundation. Just as there are many architectural foundations for building a house or a building, there are many foundations to build character on. Taking a strand of moral values, I have determined that basically it means determining right from wrong or as a segment of society interprets it, good and evil; with evil being anything that does not agree with one’s belief system. Religion, and it doesn’t matter if it is Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or whatever, has used the word moral for control purposes to instill in the child – the individual the beliefs that the particular religion adheres to.
One web site I viewed had an article entitled Moral Safety that gave the idea of creating a moral environment by searching for a higher meaning and purpose. It went on to say that a moral safe environment allows an ongoing ethical dialogue. Ah, a new word, ethical and going back to my dictionary, I learned that ethics pertains to a code or system of morals of a particular person, religion, organization, profession, etc. Who determines those? This can become very manipulative when we give our power away to a religion, group or a position of power.
There are, from my perspective, some precepts that fit most societies for moral values even though these apparently seem to be empty but nice sounding words. These words are honesty, kindness, integrity, justice, courage and from the Moral Safety article, ‘…an honoring of the past and hope for the future.’
Over 2000 years ago a great teacher came into this world and gave a very simple teaching on morals and ethics. His name was Jesus who is also known as Yeshua ben Joseph. In the Sermon on the Mount, he simply states, “Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.” He also taught, “Judge not because if you do, you will be judged.” He also went on to say, ‘…don’t you read your scriptures? It says, know you are gods.’
Returning to building character, I am bemused at how it really comes down to power. Whoever is in power, determines what is moral and ethical.Going back to the sign I noted in the gymnasium, I wondered if the principal or teachers really knew what that sign meant. Who determines the qualities to instill in our children? Religion? Government? Parents? Guardians? One source I found writes that to build character in children is to teach them to respect. Really? The article goes on to say respect is to be shown to parties in the position of authority and responsibility. What if those parties are immoral in their personal and professional lives? Respect from my way of thinking comes when one has earned it by being an honorable person. There should be no respect given to those who sit in judgment or are prejudiced. There are many aspects as to who and what is to be respected.
We are all so diverse; that it is a challenge to determine what is right or wrong for any one person unless there is instilled in the child a code of values that could be simple. One code is to teach a child to be weird. Yes, weird using the Old English meaning, which is having the power to control destiny or fate. To control one’s own destiny or fate is empowerment.
Perhaps weird is a foundation to build character on. To teach a child to utilize their thinking processes for the achievement of their own individual purpose for being here is a building block. To teach a child to honor and love first their self and not to be like everyone else is another building block. To enable children to find out what their own personal talents are is a great achievement.
From London, Nangamso Mabindla writes of a Moral Regeneration Movement spearheaded by the head of the education department of this East London area. There was actually a march on City Hall with Mkhangeli Matometa saying that the …Moral Regeneration Movement could only achieve its goal by empowering the youth with the most powerful tool available – knowledge.
Shakespeare wrote, All the world is a stage and we are but the players on it. The world is our stage and each of us is the writer, producer, director and the cast of characters. As in a play, we build our character by the choices we make and the attitudes we hold. We can play the victim, the tyrant, the comic, the lover or whatever we choose. There is nothing in our life that is coincidence, fortuitous or even unexplainable.
Our character has many building blocks and fortunately none of them is set in concrete. Knowledge is the basic building block and from knowledge we can build and alter any character we choose to be. Knowledge gives us the power to determine the destiny of our life – we can all be weird.
Life is a banquet and we can choose life as a full banquet or a meager banquet. Choosing our character determines the life we live. We can use a simple formula: knowledge plus attitude plus choices becomes our building blocks. We can ask ourselves, ‘what building blocks am I choosing?’ and ‘what character am I choosing to live?’
Perhaps each of us as a character is a mystical symbol – a magical emblem. Perhaps by playing our character role, we are endeavoring to decipher the code of who we really are. May we all enhance our character with living our role in a light heart and in joy.
…and so it is.