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You don't build character

Character is not built … it’s … it’s something else. I’m trying to put my finger on it. Here's why I think we need a new action verb to describe what we are doing when we are working on our character.

My wife likes to tease our kids whenever they have to do something they don't want to, or something that is hard for them, that they are “building character” by doing it. That could be unloading the dishwasher, cleaning their room, cleaning out the rabbit cages, ordering their own meal at the fast food counter, etc.

While I agree that increasing character and the ability to do hard things is a fantastic individual or community goal, character is not a destination. It's something we grow towards and must be mindful of always. Character doesn’t stand the test of time without regular reinforcement and refurbishment just like any old building needs.

Using similar logic, I suggest the following idea.

If we don’t build character, we also don’t build trust or build relationships. These things we tend to – and often. They are not something we work towards once, and then when we “obtain” them, we are done and don't have to do anything further. They also aren’t preserved – able to be accessed conveniently when necessary. No, these things don’t keep well and have a short shelf-life.

We need a different word to describe the kind of meaningful work that goes into “character building.” I’m leaning towards foster or encourage, but I also like mold and shape.

“We mold our character.” “We foster trust.” “We encourage relationships with others.”

I think these words better capture what we are doing when we engage in these activities.

Walt Cooley

October 27, 2022

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