What Influences the Shaping of Character?
Good question and to answer it, following is a list of eight things that influence a person’s character but understand this. These things only influence character, they aren’t the final word on who you are or what you become.
Character isn’t decided for you or shaped apart from you. You, the individual, are a determining factor. Your character is shaped and defined by your responses, not fate.
All of these factors do, however, form the melting pot in which bad qualities are brought to the surface and hopefully replaced by the good.
I raise the question about character because Rob Bell in Love Wins suggests there is no immediate transformation at the moment of death from the flawed-you to a perfectly-complete and better you. The implication is, character continues to develop following death, so whatever character development you shirked in this life will be faced in the next.
Therefore, focusing more intently on developing character now – in this life – may be more important than convention suggests. A look at each influence can give us insight on what to expect and how to respond. The first item to consider is:
Divine Decree, aka, God’s Will.
I hesitate to use the word “Decree” because it is associated with a predetermined, unbending, never changing plan formulated for and imposed on every individual but God’s will, though unchanging, does flex. God does have a plan for each person’s life but it is not detailed to the nth degree and isn’t comprised of everything that happens to you.
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God knows every time you stub your toe – actually before you stub it – but He doesn’t plan these things. They happen, we react, He uses them.
God’s will is firm but not imposed. It is perfect but our ability to follow it is not. His will is constant while we waiver back and forth as the following illustration shows. God’s will must be ratified by human choice. Each person chooses to leave it or pursue it but God doesn’t force it down your throat or manipulate you into following it. When we make plan-warping mistakes God is smart enough and powerful enough to work around it.
Although specific in many ways, God’s will is also general. That is, it applies to everyone in the same way. For example, every person is to love his or her neighbor equally and must cherish THEIR married partner only.
The important point to remember is:
God wills the best for every person. He wants each of us to become a person of spiritual influence and He desires to transform every person into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) in this life. In a word He wants everyone to have good character.
That means God is on your side and allows for character development even when we falter. In fact, failure and the consequences that follow, catalyze growth in His plan.
But remember this, even though God uses both the good and bad circumstances in your life to mold character, He doesn’t plan them or cause them.
aka “Biological wiring!” or “I was born that way!” or “the Devil made me do it!”
Genetic predispositions are weaknesses introduced into our biology at conception which make us vulnerable to certain diseases or conditions. These disorders are inherited and therefore unchangeable and you can be predisposed to all kinds of conditions: heart disease, blood disorders, asthma, thyroid conditions, mental disorders, diabetes, and cancers to name a few. There are over 6000 possible malady-causing mutations.
Although these weaknesses and the resulting conditions can’t be avoided, they can be controlled chemically through diet and medication, or physically through operations or training. They are sometimes referred to as “disabilities” but they never determine your destiny…
And they never excuse failure.
They limit the pace of your progress but they don’t define you and can never stop you from trying. Be careful about playing the predisposition card. These are problems to be fixed. Accepting them as realities that challenge us is appropriate. Normalizing them is not. Science has found many ways to fix them and persistent souls have found ways to succeed in spite of the ones than can’t be fixed.
Accomplishing worthy goals in spite of these conditions stimulates character development.
Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in which he encourages us to rise above these conditions rather than acquiesce, is by far the best book on character shaping for the last 50 years. It is well worth the cost and time it takes to work through the material.
aka, “My parents did it to me!” Parents are the first and most prominent influence in each person’s life. Unfortunately no parent is perfect and will occasionally, through ignorance or inexperience, make mistakes. Sometimes the biggest mistake involves misunderstanding what the goal is. It’s not as complex as you might think.
Parental coaching should develop three qualities:
- An appreciation for routine.
Not habits but routine. Habits are important, yes, but routine brings many habits together into a process and the process is what we use to reach long term goals. Routine involves many habits but is much bigger than any one or two. We routinely do several things by habit in an ordered way to reach set goals.
When done properly routine gives habits perspective. It gives individual habits meaning and purpose.
It may be boring but routine is the bedrock of accomplishment. The opposite of routine is flitting from one thing to the next and never getting anywhere.
The character it takes to follow a routine is developed while learning to follow one.
- Basic skills.
Parents should NEVER tell their children what profession to pursue but they should always insist they develop the basic skills necessary to pursue a profession: reading, thinking and communicating.
Reading is the ability to gain knowledge, thinking is the ability to metabolizes it and communicating is the ability to share it. With those skills and proper emotional conditioning a child can became anything they want.
Again, the character it takes to use these skills is developed while learning them.
- Emotional conditioning.
This topic could fill many articles but suffice it to say that any person treated as guilty every time they make a mistake or insignificant for having an opinion or over judged for chronic problems will have very limited emotional stamina for working through life’s problems. It cripples them emotionally.
Insisting children “feel good” about things they don’t like – math – is emotionally crushing. Encouraging them to use math as a means to develop problem solving resourcefulness builds emotional balance, character.
Parents speak more directly to this skill than any other.
But, be warned! Although every parent is imperfect and will, therefore, fail in some ways, their failure is never the excuse for your failure. Our parents biggest failures can provide our best opportunities to learn, which is to say, even our parents mistakes encourage the building of character. It enables us to learn to be forgiving.
aka, “Personality” or “Temperament” or “Disposition” and there are four basic types: Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholy and Phlegmatic. Each type has strengths and weaknesses but none of the character qualities are naturally perfected in any of them.
Each person is a mixture of all four with one being the predominant trait and the other three manifesting to a lesser degree.
Understanding how each personality type relates to any particular characteristic enables them to mold these qualities more intelligently. “Patience” is a good example. Each personality type relates to this quality differently and must mold accordingly as shown by the above illustration:
aka, “Natural gifting.”
Ability, like nature, is determined at conception so you have no control over the abilities you are blessed with and one set can’t be traded for another – completely unchangeable – but they are designed to be expanded.
Therefore, aspiring to be a world class singer when you sound more like a frog than a bird is a waste of time.
But identifying your specific abilities and discovering enjoyable and profitable ways to use them is the goal.
Your abilities don’t determine what career you follow. An athlete can sustain world class performance for only a short time but developing abilities to that level builds character and you will need that for life. Many professional athlete follow very diverse careers once their active days are past. The character they instill during their athletic career remains forever.
As the illustration shows, the development of character is directly proportional to the expansion of ability.
There are four important things to remember.
- One, everyone has ability.
- Two, each person must learn to love and appreciate the abilities he or she has.
- Three, developing your abilities provides the grist in which character is stimulated.
- Four, ability not developed is wasted.
The opposite is also true. The less you expand on your abilities the fewer high quality characteristics you tend to develop.
aka, “How you rate!”
Your parents represent the single largest social influence in your life but they are still only a part of the mix, especially in our day with public schools, part time jobs and unlimited recreational options for kids.
We are constantly “mixing” from an early age and one way or another we are shaped by the way others react to us.
We either become the negative view others have of us or learn ways to deflect it. How we respond shapes character for good or bad.
aka, “Didn’t see it coming!”
These difficult moments happen to everyone. No one gets a free pass. Insuring yourself against common tragedies is smart. Thinking you somehow can avoid all risk is foolish.
The aim is to live a full life, being thankful for the blessings you have but determined to become a victor not a victim when blindsided by random incident. Taking that approach requires and shapes character.
Intentional Deliberate Action
aka, “Never give up, never give in, never let up!”
Everything mentioned so far will become one of two things:
- The excuses for justifying poor character qualities, lack of growth and going nowhere.
- Or the cauldron in which bad qualities are removed and good qualities are left.
An individual’s response is what determines which of these two rules apply. To quote Aimee Mullins:
Perhaps we should see adversity as natural, consistent and useful.
She’s more than qualified to say such things. Born without a fibula in either leg, the doctors decided to amputate her legs below the knee on her first birthday. But, instead of caving in, she learned to excel academically and athletically.
It was her attitude and response that made the difference.
How Is Character Shaped?
The last question, “How is character shaped,” has a short answer.
Character is shaped by the things you DO not by the things you DON’T do. Because of that we should take a different approach to molding the lives of children or rehabilitating the lives of adults.
Rather than write long lists of don’t do’s accompanied by negative, threatening, demeaning remarks for those who struggle to stay within the guidelines, we should help them develop a taste for activities that are wholesome. The taste part is important. Once developed it is difficult to get it out of your system. It is the foundation of good character.
A taste for analytical reading is better than a prohibition to avoid reading certain things.
A taste for constructive activity is better than a prohibition against disallowed activities.
But the bottom line is this: Good character development is always possible. Never stop trying to get where you need to be.
Check out what Rob Bell believes here.
See a review of Love Wins, chapter 1, here.
See a discussion on the “Age of Accountability” here.
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