Monday, August 15, 2016

Character or Personality

Character is the foundation of a healthy relationship. It nurtures what is strong in the relationship and sustains it in trying times. Character inspires devotion in a way that mere personality cannot.  Given the importance of character, I think it is worth exploring what distinguishes it from personality.  

In her book Quiet, Susan Cain describes the work of sociologist Warren Susman who identified a Culture of Character and a Culture of Personality.  A Culture of Character is concerned with how one behaves in private.  It is identified by traits such as:  citizenship, duty, work, golden deeds, honor, morals, reputation manners, and integrity.  A Culture of Personality is concerned with the impression one makes in public.  It is identified by traits such as:  magnetic, fascinating, stunning, attractive, glowing, dominant, forceful, and energetic.  The key difference is that character traits can be studied, practiced, and developed by anyone regardless of birth and breeding.  On the other hand, personality traits are the chance results of genetics, environment, and opportunity.  While character is egalitarian, personality is selective.

 It used to be that character development was the goal of individuals, of families, of communities, and of society.  The English word “personality” did not exist until the 18th century.  A great change took place with the Industrial Revolution.  As commerce and business grew more widespread, so did marketing of goods and services.  People at the turn of the 20th century were introduced to the idea of buying a service or a product because it would enhance their public self – advertising began to sell the idea of “personality”.  (“Do you want a brighter smile?”)  The Culture of Personality was born and overshadowed the Culture of Character.  The Pilgrim’s Progress gave way to How to Win Friends and Influence People as a guide for daily living.  As Susman put it, “Every American was to become a performing self.”

            However, the “performing self” cannot bear up long under the trials of life.  The great beauty of Life is that is it good and it is hard.  Personality can thrive under the good part but life’s hardships often overwhelm it.  Character finds a way to grow in emotional maturity and integrity in any situation.

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