Let’s put political parties and issues aside for a moment and look at character. What were the moral and emotional qualities that distinguished the presidential candidates as individuals? Could you label each of them as honest and trustworthy? How about kind and empathetic?
Character is important because it sets the tone for those around you, whether they be your political followers, your co-workers, your children, grandchildren or extended family. What you do and how you act rubs off on others, in positive or negative ways. It’s a choice. Do you lead by example? Can you engage in civil discourse with others even when they don’t share your point of view?
In David Brooks’ book The Road to Character, the author defines what makes a person of character. It starts with having a certain set of universal traits that include a code of ethics, an inner knowing of what is fair and just. These values have nothing to do with your political affiliation, your social or economic status or your religion. They have everything to do with what makes you tick.
Scanning Brooks’ book, I compiled a list of the attributes that help define a person of character and put them into an 11-point list. The words below are Brooks’, though they have been removed from their original context. Study them and see if you don’t believe these attributes describe a person we know, President-elect Joe Biden.
11 Traits of People with Character
- They possess an inner cohesion.
- They are calm, settled and rooted.
- They are not blown off course by storms.
- They don’t crumble in adversity.
- Their minds are consistent and their hearts are dependable.
- They answer softly when challenged. They are silent when unfairly criticized…restrained when others try to provoke them.
- They get things done. They recognize what needs doing and they do it.
- They make you feel funnier and smarter when you speak with them.
- They move through different social classes not even aware they are doing so.
- You’ve never heard them boast, you’ve never seen them self-righteous or doggedly certain.
- They don’t drop hints of their own distinctiveness and accomplishments.
Brooks also tells us about the flip side of character, pointing out that those who lack it “never develop inner constancy, the integrity that can withstand popular disapproval or a serious blow. They find themselves doing things that other people approve of, whether these things are right or not.” It’s more about trying to be popular than trying to be right.
People with character follow a different path.
Women and men of character lives their lives with a different set of priorities. They have learned to suppress the ego, or in Brook’s words “quit the self,” and find it is better to give than to receive. They are humble. They are open to the idea that they don’t know everything—and are open to finding answers from anyone around them, at any time.
If you’re a person of character, you don’t believe you have all the answers, because when you think you know everything, you stop learning and growing. In the following passage on the value of humility, Brooks draws a sharp line between how the humble person relates to life as compared to the ego-driven person who thinks they know-it-all:
The humble person is soothing and gracious, while the self-promoting person is fragile and jarring. Humility is freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time, but egotism is a ravenous hunger in a small space—self-concerned, competitive and distinction-hungry. Humility is infused with emotions like companionship, love and gratitude.
The act of being humble may require some effort on our parts, especially in a world where boasting and self-congratulation are now so commonplace. But Brooks reminds us that we are not alone in our efforts to be a person of character. As we lean on our own inner resources, we also can look outside ourselves for guidance. It is “never a solitary struggle.” In his words:
No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. We all need assistance from the outside—from family, friends, role models, rules, traditions, institutions, and, for believers, from God.
Character begins within and blossoms when we move beyond our own self-interests and act for the greater good, whether it’s for the good of our family, our community, our workplace or our country. We realize that we’re here on this Earth not to merely pursue our own agenda but to care for and uplift those around us. It’s what gives us our greatest satisfaction.