Seven Attributes of Good Character

We all have areas in our personal, professional, and social lives where we have failed. It is hard to point the finger, as we all make mistakes, big and small. So, how do we improve? How can we do more of the right things and less of the wrong ones?

Who we are as a person is the total of everything we have learned as children, plus the choices we make and habits we develop as we grow older. The good news is that we can always learn to make better choices, we can choose to believe in better values, we can create better habits, we can continue to learn.  We will never attain a perfect state; we are humans, and we will continue to make mistakes and experience success and failure in every aspect of our lives. We learn lessons through our defeats. Failure motivates me to change. Ponder this: our most significant pain comes from mistakes we make; our greatest fears come from the consequences of our wrong choices; it follows that our greatest joy will come from doing the right things, and greater love will cast away our fears.

What we do and say reflects our values!   Values are beliefs that help empower our life and the quality of what we experience. How we act and behave in our everyday life, reflects our deep-seated convictions and beliefs. Live by your set of values, and do not compromise them was the advice given to me by my grandfather.

Character is what we are when we are all alone. It is what we do when there is no one around to impress. Reputation is what people think of us; character is who we know we are. The existence or lack of certain virtues will determine who we are.  I believe there are seven attributes of good character: fortitude, tolerance, compassion, patience, hope, faith, and love.

Fortitude is courage in the face of adversity. It is the means by which individuals have the emotional power or reserves to withstand and confront serious problems.   Our mistakes and failures provide us with the opportunity to develop a type of courage which is born of humility, rather than of bravado.                                            

Tolerance is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins differ from our own. It permits freedom from bigotry.

Compassion involves allowing me to be moved by suffering of others and experiencing the motivation to help alleviate and prevent it.  Often an individual goes out of their way to help the physical, mental, or emotional pains of another and themselves. Compassion involves sensitivity, another emotional aspect of suffering. It is often based on notions of fairness, justice, and interdependence, it is rational in nature, and most often based on sound judgment. 

Patience is the ability to endure difficult circumstances such as delay; or a provocation without responding in annoyance. It is forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can have before negativity. It is also used to refer to the trait of being steadfast.

Faith is confidence or trust in a person, thing, or concept. In the context of spiritual matters it is belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of a spiritual leader. For some, faith is confidence based on a perceived degree of justification, while others who are more skeptical view faith as belief without evidence.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world. Hope allows us to expect outcomes with confidence and to cherish a desire with anticipation. Hope is necessary to keep us focused on the goal because we are never in charge of outcomes, no matter the effort we put in.

Love is a feeling of strong attraction and emotional attachment. It  encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, to the deepest personal affection and to the simplest pleasure The love of a mother for her child  differs from the love of her spouse, which differs from the love of food. But they are all love. Love for each other is the way to peace and serenity.

Why do I want to cultivate these seven attributes? Why am I concerned about the content of my character?  When I took a fearless look at myself through a rigorous inventory, I did not like who I had become.  I was not close to the “good” man I imagined myself to be.  My father-in-law, who I considered to be a weak man at one time, became my role model as he was the man I wanted to be..  I wanted the core ethical values of honesty and integrity, respecting others, taking responsibility for one’s actions, being fair and just, and being someone who promotes love and compassion in others. I wanted to be filled with humility, courage, justice, temperance, and the value of human dignity. My well-being—indeed my very existence—depends upon the content of my character.

These seven attributes were the necessary ingredients for me to become the new person I wanted to be, the rebirth of Michael. The first four of these character traits give me tools to deal with my own suffering as well as that of others. Keep moving forward despite my mistakes and shortcomings is the fundamental lesson I have found to have peace and serenity, which equates to a successful life. The last three are ways to proceed to freedom and joy. Trust yourself to do the right thing and joy will come your way.  Its joy that I am after. Happiness is too dependent upon transitory things and other people. Joy comes from faith, hope and love. Trust God knows what you need. He will do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And love God and others with all your heart.

SUFFERING & GROWTH

PERSONAL GROWTH THROUGH SUFFERING

Often turmoil and trauma just seem to be destructive and negative. But in the long term, these may be balanced—or even transcended—by powerful positive effects.

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You have probably experienced the negative effects of turmoil in your own life, or at least been aware of them in people close to you. Many people who have suffered traumatic life-events such as death of a loved one, illness (such as cancer), housefires, combat or becoming a refugee, find that dealing with this trauma is a powerful spur for personal development. It was not just a question of learning to cope with or adjust to negative situations; they actually gained some significant benefits from them.

Many folks gain new inner strength and discover skills and abilities they never knew they possessed. They became more confident and appreciative of life, particularly of the “small things” that they normally take for granted. They become more compassionate for the sufferings of others, and more comfortable with intimacy so that they have deeper and more satisfying relationships. One of the most common changes is that they have a more philosophical or spiritual attitude to life.

Initially, most folks experience a “dark night of the soul,” where their previous values are thrown into question, and life ceases to have any meaning. After this, most go through a phase of spiritual searching, trying to make sense of what has happened to them, and find new values. And finally, once they have found new spiritual principles to live by, they enter a phase of “spiritual integration” by applying these new principles. At this point, they find new meaning and purpose in life, together with a grateful heart for being alive, and even for having been through so much turmoil.  In some ways, it seems, suffering can deepen us.

There are only two choices when facing hardships: rise to the challenge and overcome it, or retreat into despair.  Suffering initiates a search for significance. It is important to make sense of and find meaning and purpose in suffering and grow past limits that create vulnerability. We all need one another and nothing is certain or uncertain, both are illusions. Humans cannot predict exactly what is going to occur so letting go of sureness of an outcome brings vulnerability.

The facts are that suffering SUCKS! I always want to get it over with ASAP. But to really cash in on the strength-building benefits, the idea is not to bypass the process.  Patience is key.   A lot of times that means you have to allow yourself to feel the pain: Vent to a friend about your demanding boss, cry after a breakup, push through the last six miles of the marathon on your bucket list..

When we process the pain, we reap the rewards. Most goals and accomplishments could not be completed without periods of suffering. Suffering builds character by giving us a sense that if we can get through times of suffering, we can accomplish anything.

Not all pain can provide the rewards noted above.  Destructive suffering or “bad pain” comes from repeating old patterns and avoiding the pain it would take to change them. Suffering at the hands of someone else is not valuable at all.

Many times people suffer because of their own character faults. Then other people come alongside them and give them comfort or a spiritual pep talk about how God is with them in this testing. They usually frame the experience as the testing of an innocent person.

The difficulty arises when the suffering is the fruit of the individual’s own character and is of no value unless they see it as a wake-up call. This is bad pain. And bad pain is basically wasted pain. It is the pain we go through to avoid the good pain of growth that comes from pushing through. It is the wasted pain we encounter as we try to avoid grief and the true hurt that needs to be worked through. It is the wasted pain of trying to get a person to love us or approve of us instead of facing the loss of this love and moving on.

In too many support circles, people are supported in ways that do not make them face the growth steps they need to take to keep from repeating their mistakes. They are seen as victims and are then set up for failure all over again.

DO NOT BE A VICTIM! Convert worthless pain into transformative growth.

I hate the cliché, “NO PAIN!  NO GAIN!”  BUT…………………………………!