Where does the word character come from? I’m always fascinated by the origin of words. Character is an interesting word. It has many meanings, and it is an old word. If you look it up in the dictionary you’ll find a long list of definitions. Let’s look at its origin.
Middle English: from Old French caractere, via Latin from Greek kharaktēr ‘a stamping tool’. From the early sense ‘distinctive mark’ arose ‘token, feature, or trait’ (early 16th century), and from this ‘a description, especially of a person’s qualities’, giving rise to ‘distinguishing qualities’.
When I thought about this some more, it really struck a chord in me. I had looked at “character building” and “my personal character” as something more fleeting and ephemeral. In other words, I wasn’t taking it very seriously. I thought character was something we got, in terms of sticking to a hard task and finishing it. Or, as a consequence of something I’d endured… I realized I was treating my character too lightly.
The reason is when we think about the Greek origins, “a stamping tool” or a chisel of some kind–I think more of character creation and I have to take responsibility for my character and the development of character in my life and my son. It’s not something that happens by accident, it’s something that you design, you choose, you build with your hands and sweat. Character cannot be left to chance happenings or by accident. You have to craft your character.
How do we do this? Well, we craft character in ourselves by the choices we make, the thoughts we think, the values that we include in our lives. We don’t just define character, we shape and become it actively. We work hard to identify the qualities that we want to incorporate into our world.
I challenge you to think about your character, how was it developed? Are there qualities and things in your life that you need to look at closely to make sure you just didn’t accidentally add these aspects of your personality that the whole world can see? Then decide how you will define your character and harness it to serve yourself and others.
“There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy, Three Methods of Reform (1900)