(Hint: It’s more than just a person in a story)
Picture your best friend. Maybe she wears glasses. Maybe he’s a great piano player. She keeps your secrets. He has two sisters. She lives at 82 Maplegrove. There are many qualities that make people unique, but which ones make up a person’s character?
What Is Character?
There’s a difference between character and a character. In a book, play, or movie, a character is anyone with personality. It could be a person, an animal, an object come to life, or even something imaginary.
Suppose your teacher asks you to describe a favorite book character. You might start by saying that Charlie is a 12-year-old boy who lives with his father and is from Mexico.
But, more importantly, you’d have to tell who Charlie is as a person. You’d have to describe the character of this character.
In real life (and in fiction) character is a set of inner qualities. Character is revealed through words, thoughts, beliefs, decisions, and patterns of behavior. If Charlie returns a wallet to its owner without taking any money, you can say he is honest. If he turns his father’s words into funny puns, you can say he is clever. These words describe his character.
Character tells us who a person is – on the inside.
It’s part of what makes up your personality. Character doesn’t change when you get a haircut or move to a different school. Character is not just one thing, but many things.
A person can be funny and outspoken and helpful all at the same time. We call these descriptions character traits. Character is who you are.An attribute, on the other hand, can change without changing who the person is. Things like being a farmer, having a great jump shot, or going to Dover Middle School are all attributes.
They tell about a person but don’t tell who the person is. We can choose some of our attributes, like where we live or how well we speak Italian, by our behaviors. Other attributes, like having green eyes or being an only child, are out of our control.
Finally, your feelings also help make up your personality, but they’re not who you are. We all feel sad sometimes, silly at other times, and worried at times. Feelings change with our circumstances but they don’t change who we are.Sometimes a feeling or an attribute becomes part of a person’s character. An attribute might bring with it certain character traits. For example, someone who chooses to become a firefighter is usually seen as brave. A pattern of feeling a certain way, such as confident, can become a character trait. A person who always feels confident even when others in the same situation might not can be described as having a confident character.
Can You Choose Your Character?
You can choose to study hard and score well on a math exam. You can choose to dye your hair and dress stylishly. But can you choose your character? Can you decide to be responsible even if you weren’t born that way? The answer is mostly yes. A lot of factors go into making you who you are. Your genes determine a lot about you. The way you are raised plays a big part. As you grow, the things you learn and the decisions you make help shape your character as well. Even the society around you plays a part. So are you stuck with a certain character or can you choose to be who you want to be?
Consider an example. Hailey and Javon are both in sixth grade. Hailey loves helping out around the house. She keeps her room neat and actually enjoys putting away her dishes after every meal. Javon, on the other hand, can’t stand chores. Every day he makes his bed with a frown. He changes the cat litter while muttering under his breath. Yet Javon does these chores every day without fail, because that’s the only way his mother will drive him to swim practice.
Which one is responsible? They both are! Even though Javon doesn’t feel like being responsible he decides to be. It might take more effort than it does for Hailey, but Javon is responsible too. So, while you can choose your character, it might not always be easy or enjoyable. The thing about character is that it doesn’t matter very much how you feel or what’s going on around you. What matters is how you choose to behave. In fact, there’s a saying:
Circumstances don’t determine character, they reveal it.
What does that mean? Suppose you think of yourself as a polite person. If your circumstances change, your character should remain the same. If you woke up super early, waited in a long line at the airport, sat in a cramped seat, and had nothing to eat, would you still be polite? Or would that situation reveal something different about you? You can decide on your own character as long as you decide ahead of time. If you decide to be an honest person, you’ll have to choose honesty in every situation. Even if you’re very tempted to steal something. Even if there’s no way anyone could catch you cheating. Even if telling a lie would get you out of big trouble. Does that mean you can never mess up? Not exactly. If your very friendly uncle snaps rudely at the cashier in a store, we might say that behavior is “out of character” for him. However, if your uncle snaps rudely at people four times per week, we wouldn’t describe his character as friendly.
Does Character Matter?
So what’s the point of character, anyway? If it’s sometimes difficult or unenjoyable to have good character, why bother? It matters because the reward is worth the effort. If you give in to every passing feeling, you might end up as someone you wouldn’t want to be friends with. Selfish. Lazy. Impatient. However, working to build good character will make you feel proud, help your relationships, and bring you success in life.
Character affects what you think of yourself.
Think of your proudest achievements. Were they easy? Probably not. But they make you feel good about yourself and confident about what you can do in the future. On the other hand, times when you’ve done wrong (maybe by hurting someone’s feelings or being unprepared for class) bring feelings of shame and disappointment.
Too much of those feelings could really hurt your self-esteem. By having good character, you can be proud of yourself even when things don’t go your way.
Character affects what others think of you.
Others notice your character whether you want them to or not. You might form a friendship over a shared interest like video games, but it takes good character to keep a friend. If you hog the controller and criticize your friend, you probably won’t stay friends for long.
You might say, “It doesn’t matter what other people think of me.” That’s true when it comes to the way you dress or the fact that you like to chomp on a whole tomato at lunch. But if others don’t respect your character, that’s a problem.
Character affects your success and happiness in life.
Good character goes beyond just influencing people’s feelings. It affects your life as well. Suppose you want to earn money by walking dogs in your neighborhood.
You won’t have much luck if the neighbors have seen you smashing people’s Halloween pumpkins. If you need to borrow a friend’s bike, you'd better hope they’ve seen you take good care of your tablet.
Some people say, “Character is who you are when no one is looking.” That means your true character is the person you are when you know you are alone. In a way that’s true.
If you act quiet and sweet when you’re at school but loud and mean when you’re at home, then school was just an act. But on the other hand character is also who you are when others are looking, because everything you do and say (or don’t do and don’t say) contributes to how others view your character.
Because everything you do and say (or don’t do and don’t say) contributes to how others view your character. Think back to that picture in your mind of your best friend. Now that you know a little more about character, how would your description change?
How would you describe your best friend’s character?
More importantly, how would your best friend describe your character?
Decide what you want that description to be and work to have that character.
Show it in your words and actions, whether you are with others or alone. Your character is in your hands!