The Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed character is destiny. I kept reminding myself of this during those dark days. Character can be acquired intentionally by proactively developing habits of the heart, mind, body, and soul. It can also be acquired passively by enduring life's inconveniences, difficulties, and unavoidable suffering. But there are no shortcuts. You cannot hack your way to character. It is the greatest investment you can make in yourself. What is character? It's getting harder and harder to get people to agree on a definition. Some say it's working hard and being honest. Others say it's doing what you say you will do. Many agree that it is living in alignment with your values. But what if you work hard in a criminal enterprise? What if you're honest about the manipulative intentions you have? What if what you say you will do is hateful and hurtful? And what if your values are anger, revenge, selfishness, and pleasure above all else? I doubt many would conclude that living out these values reflects high character. So, what is character? It's moral excellence. But we don't talk about morality anymore. When did you last participate in a conversation aimed at exploring if something was moral or not? When was the last time you heard someone described as a person of high moral character? Where could someone go if they wanted to learn about moral excellence? In the chokehold of relativism, we've become confused about the difference between right and wrong. So confused that we're not even sure right, wrong, good and bad even exist. But surely it is wrong for a person to spend his life in prison for a crime he did not commit?
Can we agree that is wrong? More than a million men, women, and children are victims of human trafficking across international borders every year. Can we all agree that that is bad and wrong? It is impossible to build character without a sense of right, wrong, good, bad, just, and unjust. One of the most ludicrous debates in our society over the past twenty years has been about character. Does character matter? The mere fact that we're asking this question means we have lost our way. Character is destiny. This is true for a person, a marriage, a family, and yes, for a nation. What does our future look like if that is true? Maybe it's time to place character back at the center of our families, communities, education systems. Whatever it is we wish to rebuild in our lives and in our nation, let us begin with character. How do you build character? With virtue. Virtues are the building blocks of character. Think about the shortlist of virtues: patience, kindness, humility, gentleness, perseverance, truthfulness, courage, temperance, justice, faithfulness, and goodwill. Would your life improve if you had more of these virtues in both number and degree? Would you be a better spouse? Would you be a better parent, a better sibling, friend, colleague, neighbor, and citizen? I've tried a hundred different ways to improve my life. They didn't work. The only way to genuinely improve your life is with virtue.
You cannot improve your life in any meaningful way without improving as a human being. Any improvement that does not come from expanding your potential as a human being is at best cosmetic. Virtue is also the only way for a society to make genuine progress. Progress built on anything other than character and virtue is a mirage. I love being around people of high character. They stoke my desire to grow and expand and improve. I'm fascinated with great accomplishment, but I respect virtue. Accomplishment is infinitely easier than virtue. I love being around virtuous people. They make me want to be a better person. People of exceptional character put character first. They put it above everything else. It doesn't matter what it cost them because they know that to abandon character would be to lose their very self. If to lose character is to lose self then the path to finding self is also character. If you want to discover yourself, dedicate yourself to growing in one very specific virtue each month. As we grow in virtue, we grow in character and as we grow in character, we come to know our truest self. Character is not some generic, boring, rule-abiding cookie-cutter thing. It is personal and dynamic. It manifests differently and beautifully in every person. So together, let's place character and virtue at the center of daily living. Surround yourself with people who are striving for virtue and character. And beware, beware anyone who is incapable of delaying gratification. It is a sure sign that virtue has been banished from someone's life.