Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Strength of Character

Today is Tuesday, October 15, 2013.

When a sports team is having a bad year, especially when most of the players are new and have not yet formed a team bond, and there are no particular "stars" to lead the team, the coach will say that the team is "building character."  The word character is defined as the mental and moral qualities of an individual, with synonyms such as personality, temperament, disposition, and mentality.  But when we say a person has strength of character, we are talking about specific traits. The person with strength of character is trustworthy, shows respect to others, exercises responsibility and fairness, cares about other people, and contributes to his or her community. 

Basically, strength of character has to do with how you handle the tough situations in life.  Let's look at some of these traits.

Dignity is a way of behaving that suggests self-control.  A person with dignity doesn't engage in foolish or erratic behavior.  He or she doesn't engage in public displays of anger.  The dignified person exercises restraint in words and actions.

Poise is a quality that allows us to maintain our balance, no matter what happens.  A poised person can roll with the punches, and step up to the plate, no matter how nervous he or she may be feeling inside.

Reticence means not telling people everything you know and keeping your feelings inside.  In practical (and healthy) terms, it means not imposing your opinions and beliefs on others, and not excessively complaining or making negative comments.

Self-discipline is the ability to regulate your actions without enforcement from others, resist temptations to act unwisely, and to delay gratification until a more appropriate time.

Sobriety has two components.  In addition to being free from the influence of mood-altering substances such as drugs or alcohol, sober people have a lot of common sense.  They are practical, level-headed, and pragmatic.

While reticence is not telling people how you feel or what you think all the time, stoicism is the acceptance of what happens without complaint or emotional drama.  I don't think it is really total indifference to pain or pleasure, but a highly-developed form of control of the passions of the mind.

 Aplomb is self-confidence or self-assurance in a demanding situation.  This is very much like poise, but the word aplomb describes how someone does something (with aplomb), while the word poise describes the person, him- or herself.

Balance is avoidance of extremes of emotion or extremes of excess in any area of life.  When I think of balance, I often remember a favorite quote from Thomas Merton: Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony. 

We all know someone who has not handled a tough situation very well.  (Some of us are that very person.)  Dealing with a death or a life-threatening illness, having to live with a physical handicap, wading through a messy divorce, living through a weather-related disaster, a fire, an earthquake, or what-have-you is incredibly hard, no question, but it doesn't give anyone the right to be a jerk to other people.  It doesn't give anyone the right to storm at well-meaning people who offer their love and concern in the form of advice or assumptions such as, "You must be very lonely now without your (fill-in-the-blank)."  Going through a hard time never gives anyone the right to be bitter or feel entitled.  I think this is what is meant by the last part of today's quote: "Strength of character is... also about how much you can handle after you've broken."   :-/

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