Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Character. n. The combination of qualities or traits that distinguishes an individual or group.

"Character" derives from the Greek word which described the engraved image or impression, especially that identified the object such as a coin. In biblical use, the only occurrence is a figurative one in Hebrews 1:3 – Jesus as the "character" of God.

There are at least 10 more English definitions for "character" depending on where you look, but they all stem from this basic meaning. Soren Kierkegaard called character "changeable rarely and least of all in extreme circumstances."

Character pours out of us whether it is favorable or not. Kierkegaard's words prove true by our experience. Character is slow to change. And why not? If our character has taken X number of years to develop, changing overnight is not only unlikely, but impossible.

Extreme circumstances bring out the best or worst of our character. When the lights are brightest and the stage is largest, a person's character is tested most. To a certain degree, any man or woman can prepare and present elements of character-wished-for. However, unexpected moments, sudden questions, unpredicted catastrophes, or unannounced joys bring out the character from deep within us as if opening a door to the soul. Who a person has become through everything – education, trials, family, religion, friendships, well…everything – that is the undeniable character of a person.

We are all judges of character. There are facts involved, and then there is our instinct. We see someone on TV or meet someone in person, and we get a vibe (nothing weird) about them. We trust or distrust them. We like or dislike them.

For years I've had an evolving list in my head of people I'd choose in extreme circumstances to be on my side. I'll probably never go to war, but I think of that type scenario. Some of them are smart. Some are stubborn. Some are tough. Some are resourceful. But it's all about character. (There are even people on the list that I wouldn't want to be around everyday, but in the heat of battle I'd take them in a heartbeat.)

Back to the Greek term and the idea of the coins. Isn't it interesting that some of those who have demonstrated the most character in history have their images engraved on our coins today?

Kierkegaard quote as in Hunter's The Death of Character

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