Personal values are tricky business. If you ask me, Tara, what principles do you hold as values? I might say, Honesty, integrity, realness; I like people who are real. But if you ask me, What drives your behavior? I might say, Comfort, ease of use, non-complicated.
Both answers are correct in the sense that honesty, integrity, and realness, and, comfort, ease-of-use, and non-complicated all have equal worth. They are all values. However, the first list is what I would call intentioned values, or wanna-be values; these are the values I’m striving to live by but fail more times than I would like. The second list is what actually drives my behavior. In a pinch, these default values frequently override my intentioned values.
Therefore, when I am asked about the principles I hold as values, the real answer is comfort because comfort is what drives many of my decisions.
I don’t like giving this answer because I don’t want it to be true. It doesn’t look good. I would much rather say I live by the values of integrity and honesty. This would bring high praise. Comfort has the odor of laziness. It smells. I don’t want to smell.
Our character is comprised of the values that drive our behavior.
We can have bad or good character; both are based on what drives us. Truthfully, human beings are a mix of both. No one is all bad or all good. Some people are top-heavy in one direction or the other in varying degrees. Some people are an equal mix of both; they’re good people but they just can’t get out of their own way and don’t understand why.
Character is the tension between who we want to be and who we are.
Do I have the time to be honest? Do I have the patience to answer this question, AGAIN? Do I have the energy to deal with the consequences if I say no? Do I have enough empathy to listen without judging? Do I have the humility to have a difficult conversation without slinging mud? Do I have the selflessness to serve without complaining? Do I have the strength to confront this problem? Do I have the discipline to stick to a regular exercise routine? The choices are endless.
Character is built over time. Each of these decisions reveal our true values in the moment and it is in the collection of these moments that our overall character is defined.
We can upgrade our character by choosing in the moment the intentioned, or wanna-be, value instead of the default values of comfort or avoidance or people-pleasing.
The key is to be completely honest about the actual values that are actually driving us. If we assign honesty to our character, but then hold back information, the value of avoidance might be what is actually driving our decisions rather than the value of honesty. Once we determine that avoidance pulls stronger than honesty, we now have the opportunity to choose better the next time the moment presents itself. This is building character.
Character isn’t a trait.
Character is how we handle the tension in the opportunity to go one direction or the other. We can’t claim to have character until we stand in the tension to choose it. Wise character is built in those moments that prevail in the tension.
Tara Schiro is the owner and designer of the Etsy store, Wear Your Character LLC, and is the author of two books: Write Your Life With Grace, Fruit of the Spirit Guided Journal, and No Arms, No Legs, No Problem, You can wish to die or choose to live. Both books are available on Amazon.