Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Ever Happened to Character Building?

Cross-posted at Beyond Black & White

Has anyone ever told you, "well you just don't know how to pick a good man" (so annoying) or "you should choose a man based on his good character". Well what do people actually mean by "good character" and do you have good character yourself? Good character or character strengths are usually taught to children explicitly by parents and teachers, implicitly through role modelling, and in books, stories, and children's programming. In the past young adults were also trained about how to be "proper" ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately I think that character building has been thrown to the wayside by many adults in favor of people "just being themselves" and "finding someone who accepts me for me" types of attitudes. Becoming a better person of good character seems too old fashioned and fake for some...but I think it needs to make a comeback! Some people have really bad character, they make people miserable, are often miserable themselves, but they refuse to improve and change for the better! To some people, asking them to "be nice" or "look nice" is practically a crime against humanity!

Although I have said I'm pragmatic, a realist, and more of a behaviourist type just concerned about getting rewards and avoiding punishments in life, that's definitely not the whole story. I am VERY concerned about not hurting others, getting along with others, and being a good person (please don't bother pointing out ways I have not done this perfectly, I already know!). So I do value good character and I am trying to develop good character. A lady or high quality woman has good character and it shows. Developing good character is a worthwhile pursuit and is a way to improve oneself as I have written about many times in the past (e.g., Why do Some Black Women Reject Self-Improvement?Elegant Black Women Need People SkillsThe Great Self Improvement Debate, and Does your Success Say Something About your Character?

So, how can you quickly learn about good character so that you can become a better person? Well below I have posted The VIA classification of character strengths, an excellent list of character traits used in positive psychology. It's a great list because the strengths are broken up into categories and there is research behind it. There is actually a questionnaire on the VIA site that you can take to assess your character! Take the questionnaire to figure out if you are as good a person as you think you are, because like many of us, there may be room for improvement :) (The free version doesn't give much information though, it just ranks your traits but it is something to work with). Maybe the reason why your relationships don't go well is because of weaknesses in some of these areas. I focus on women making personal changes, like building character, because you are in control of yourself and you have the power to change yourself. You have much less power to change others but you can try to do so by communicating with them. As you can see from the list of character strengths, communicating what is right to others and trying to help are good qualities. (I'll highlight some interesting ones ;).

The VIA Character Strength List (source)

Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
1. Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things.
2. Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; exploring and discovering.
3. Open-mindedness [judgment, critical thinking]: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; weighing all evidence fairly.
4. Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one's own or formally.
5. Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people.
Strengths of Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external and internal
6. Bravery [valor]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; acting on convictions even if unpopular.
7. Persistence [perseverance, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles.
8. Integrity [authenticity, honesty]: Presenting oneself in a genuine way; taking responsibility for one's feeling and actions.
9. Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated.
Strengths of Humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
10. Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated.
11. Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, "niceness"]: Doing favors and good deeds for others.
12. Social intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself.
Strengths of Justice: civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
13. Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group.
14. Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others.
15. Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same maintain time good relations within the group.
Strengths of Temperance: strengths that protect against excess
16. Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.
17. Humility / Modesty: Letting one's accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is.
18. Prudence: Being careful about one's choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.
19. Self-regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one's appetites and emotions.
Strengths of Transcendence: strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
20. Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life.
21. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful of the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
22. Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it.
23. Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side.
24. Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose, the meaning of life, and the meaning of the universe.
Please also read 340 ways to use VIA character strengths. It is an excellent list of things you can actually do to practice your character strengths and they are examples of the behaviours of people with good character. It also lists movies you can watch to see demonstrations of the traits :). I also found an alternative list of 49 qualities for success. Please read these definitions and behaviours on the linked page that express these good character traits. They may be very eye opening to some of you.
  • Alertness, Attentiveness, Availability, Benevolence, Boldness, Cautiousness, Compassion, Contentment, Creativity
  • Decisiveness, Deference, Dependability, Determination, Diligence, Discernment, Discretion, Endurance, Enthusiasm
  • Faith, Flexibility, Forgiveness, Generosity, Gentleness, Gratefulness, Honor, HospitalityHumility, Initiative, Joyfulness, Justice, Loyalty
  • Meekness, Obedience, Orderliness, Patience, Persuasiveness, Punctuality, Resourcefulness, Responsibility
  • Security, Self-Control, Sensitivity, Sincerity, Thoroughness, Thriftiness, Tolerance, Truthfulness, VirtueWisdom
Many of the character traits listed above are associated with femininity and some with masculinity but really they are attractive when both men and women have them. It may just be that men and women display these traits in different ways or display some more than others. Just like some religious things, sometimes it seems like the traits are contradictory. That is because particular situations may call for specific actions are all actually in line with certain character traits but not with others (e.g., self-regulation vs. bravery). People can value the traits but they have to be flexible with them depending on the situation.

One should not rely on a specific trait over the others especially if it is to one's detriment. For example, one can be meek and obedient yet stand up and be bold when something is wrong. People should only be obedient to commands to do what is right, not something that is dishonest or harmful to others. One should be tolerant but also speak out when something isn't right especially if they are trying to protect others. It's about balance, evaluating the situation, and doing what is right given the circumstances. What is right in one situation is not right in all other situations.

I believe that unless you have made an effort to foster character strengths or good character then you are not being as great a person as you could be and there is probably a lot of room for improvement. You can change for the better and people should not be discouraged from doing so by others who state "You are trying to be fake". Please use your knowledge of these character traits for good. Kindly point out when someone is going against one of these traits. Do no taunt, belittle, or harshly chastise them because that in itself is a poor act of character--it's very tempting to do so!

For example don't say, "You are so closed minded, that's why nobody likes you." Acting that way is not being humble, caring, or respectful. Instead try to teach and be open and appeal to that persons desire to be good. You could say, "People tend to get along better with people who are open-minded to to their ideas and opinions. You don't have to agree, just listen and consider if there is anything useful or agreeable about what they have said. Then you will be able to get along with more people and they will be more likely to listen to you in return."  Recognize that while you can point your finger at their bad behaviour, you are not perfect, and others can point to your flaws as well. Just try to do your best by showing good character and try to teach others how to be their best. Recognize that not everyone is at the same level of character development and some don't even value being a good person, but they may change their minds in the future, appreciate good people, and see the value in becoming one.

Character Building Articles: 

What are your character strengths and why should you care? Also includes a link to a test to assess your top five strengths!


  1. Kia here - I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on some topics. I don't want to have internet wars with you. Enough black women do that already in real life. I wish you the best in finding your partner in life. I do like your site and some of the articles you posted. Its great to come to sites where black women discuss adult topics. Rather than celeb drama.

  2. Yes! We should all strive to be better. No one is perfect and we never will be but the consistent effort to be better is fulfilling. I wasn't able to go through all the links yet, but thanks for this post.

  3. I also want to add that self-improvement isn't necessarily a frantic stress inducing process! For me knowing what my limits or weaknesses (e.g. certain aspects of schoolwork, patience, certain character traits among friends, etc)and recognizing where I need to improve has been grounding and hopeful at the same time. It doesn't mean giving up or being discouraged. When you understand you can't be perfect you can calmly work towards doing the best you possibly can without beating yourself up. :)