If I asked you the question, “What is Character?” You would probably answer by saying that “Character is behaving well when there’s nobody around”.
That is, if you were referring to good character which, I should clarify, is what I’m talking about here.
However, consider this definition of Character by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, in a recent podcast of his. He says “Character means acting in accordance with the ‘head’, rather than with the ‘emotions’ or with the ‘body’.
So, through this definition, he introduces 3 things that drive human behavior: The head (or intellect), the emotions (or feelings) and the body (or appetites); in their order of significance.
A person of good, solid character is someone who is continuously able to lead themselves by what they think and know is right, rather than by what they feel is right at the moment.
So, let’s look closely at these 3 things that drive our behavior and see for ourselves which one characterizes us best.
We’ll start from the bottom. People of low character are driven by the body, by their physical needs and appetites. If this were you, it means that you would eat without restraint, drink without restraint, you might even behave horribly towards women – if you’re a man – to the point of taking advantage of them sexually and physically.
You would lack the ability, desire or will to restrain your body’s drives and desires. And the more you act this way, the more addictions you would pick up, because addiction is the result of letting your body run your life. You’ll be pulled in the direction of responding to a bodily call and, before very long, it becomes almost irresistible.
Humans are creatures of habit and the more we do something, the more driven by it we get. It becomes part of us, our routine, our addiction. Someone who yields to the body becomes more and more irresistibly drawn toward that direction, toward that addiction.
Not reacting to the body requires character.
This is a step up from being controlled by the body, but it still isn’t good enough.
If you are emotionally driven, you’re still of low character. You will act on emotions of ‘love’ and hate, anger and arrogance, greed and selfishness. These emotions become the driving factors of how you make decisions and how you act. You will be one who continuously reacts to situations instead of learning to respond to them appropriately– after thinking.
Getting involved in a bad and toxic romantic relationship, driven by the emotion of ‘love’ is one example of how being led by your feelings can be detrimental. Getting angry all the time – venting, saying what you feel no matter who gets harmed (not hurt – it’s okay to hurt people sometimes, but not to the degree of causing harm) is another. Greedy politicians stealing public funds is a result of them being driven by the emotions of greed and selfishness.
An emotionally-driven person lacks character; they lack the ability to control impulses, postpone gratification, and to think about consequences when faced with what they want to do. They instead let their feelings of the moment make that decision for them.
Being led by your intellect or your head is being of high character. It involves thinking about consequences first, before taking actions, and then modifying your behavior according to those consequences. It involves resisting the call of the emotions or the call of the body because of future consequences.
What are the consequences of having a child outside of marriage, for example? Well, one of them is that, if the child were male, he would most likely follow the path of crime. Heard of the stat that says over 90% of mass shootings in the US are committed by males who did not consistently have a father figure in the home while growing up?
So instead of being driven by the culture of the day, the mood of the populace, the feelings and emotions surrounding being a baby mama and baby daddy, think twice into the future and consider the consequences of bringing that child into a broken home.
That’s how to be driven by the intellect, how to be of good character. It is not easy at all, especially when the culture hardly emphasizes character these days.
That is one way to build character in people – by emphasizing it. The University I attended (which was widely mocked at the time but now people realize its impact) stressed that we would have to graduate in character and in Learning. And they made sure this was not just lip service.
Character thrives in values. Without values, there cannot be character! My school stressed its core values of Spirituality, Mentality, Capacity-building, Integrity, Responsibility, Diligence, and Sacrifice. It was when someone upheld and exhibited these values that they were said to be of character.
If we are to be led by our heads and not our feelings and emotions, we ought to define our values first– determine what we will stick to doing, no matter what – that do not go against God’s law and man’s law and encourage others who act within such values, while condemning the actions of those who don’t.
We need to emphasize character once again as a society. We need to come together and stand against those who deliberately hurt others so that they may satisfy immediate bodily desires or emotional drives and impulses.
But first we need to understand the things that drive our behavior – intellect, emotions, and bodily appetites – and then emphasize the best out of the rest!