On character and ideals

On character and ideals January 2, 2011

I teach Relief Society and last week I taught a lesson on Richard G. Scott’s General Conference talk “The Transforming Power of Faith and Character.” The most meaningful part of the talk for me was a quotation from Hugh B. Brown:

“Wherever in life great spiritual values await man’s appropriation, only faith can appropriate them. Man cannot live without faith, because in life’s adventure the central problem is character-building—which is not a product of logic, but of faith in ideals and sacrificial devotion to them” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 105).

That bit about our character being a product of our ideals really spoke to me. It must be true whether our ideals are good or bad. I recently re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, a book with great characters and great portrayals of character. It shows that ideals like narcissism and entitlement create characters like Bob Ewell, while ideals like the equality of humanity and the Golden Rule create Atticus Finch. The book’s characters, particularly Atticus, are products of their ideals. At this time of year many of us create resolutions for the New Year. What about examining our ideals? If our devotion to them determines our character, it’s worth finding out what they are, and re-devoting ourselves to our best ones.

I tried doing this, and found it pretty difficult. It was a lot harder to write down my ideals than to set a goal of say, losing weight. But here are a few ideals I came up with:

The equality and intrinsic value of all human beings
Equal opportunity
The Golden Rule
The value of delayed gratification

Now, ideals don’t automatically translate into building character. There’s also that “sacrificial devotion to them” part. Indeed, when people speak of character-building experiences, they’re usually talking about something difficult and/or unpleasant, which sacrifice often is. Life is pretty good at giving us unsolicited opportunities for sacrificing in devotion to our ideals. But it’s also possible to aim at living up to one’s ideals without going through uninvited character-building experiences. That’s where goals come in. I may believe in equal opportunity, but what am I doing to help create it for my fellow men and women? I’m going to give that some thought, because I’m sure I could be doing something more than I currently am.

What are your ideals?

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