I like fractals. I guess that makes me a nerd, and I own it proudly. But more than an oblique concept for math nerds, fractals are crucial for understanding some profound truths like the need for character. A fractal is a math concept where the same pattern repeats over and over no matter what level you observe.
Character is a fractal. Photo by
Robert Nelson on Unsplash
As an engineer, I like fractals. I guess that makes me a nerd, and I own it proudly. But more than an oblique concept for math nerds, fractals are crucial for understanding some profound truths like the need for character. A fractal is a math concept where the same pattern repeats over and over no matter what level you observe. As an example, the fern in the picture example, the fern in the picture has a branch structure on the main trunk that repeats on the primary branches, secondary branches, and even the individual leaves. Fractals are present in other areas of nature like coastlines and snowflakes, as well as man-made environments like stock markets. Fractals are valuable because they don't just happen by chance - they are caused by an underlying principle or law pervasive enough to keep showing up.
Character is a fractal, and this post unpacks the layers of life depending on character, from the largest to the smallest scale.
A Free Society Depends on Virtue
In the 18th century, at the dawn of America, the framers of the U.S. Constitution desired to throw off the bonds of oppressive external rule. This new ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness did not call for the absence of government but rather embracing self-government. And self-government relies on what the framers and philosophers of the past two millennia call virtue. Benjamin Franklin said, "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom." And John Adams stated, "The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue."
John Adams - freedom depends on virtue
Without this virtue in its people, the nation's freedom will not be lasting. This shift from external government to internal government is also the framework used to describe levels of ethical reasoning.
The Marketplace Demands Ethical Brands
Consumers prefer to do business with ethical brands. A Mintel study found that 56% of consumer respondents stop buying from brands they perceive as unethical, with 35% not buying even if no substitute is available from another vendor. Companies seen to lack character will clearly have a difficult time in the marketplace.
Companies Run on Trust
The importance of character in a company will be the topic of future posts, but for now, suffice it to say that
organizational employee turnover,
sustained growth all depend heavily on corporate character and internal trust.
No one wants to work on Survivor Island. Still, too often, employees feel like they are driving to Tribal Council every morning.
Relationships Suck without Trust
Marriages rely on commitment, communication, love and attachment, and conflict resolution. And parent-child relationships based on trust and high attachment have real benefits in school performance and alcohol use. Relationships that lack trust are a rampant cause of trauma, but relationships high in trust and character are one of the most rewarding things on this earth.
Vices Enslave the Individual Rather than Free
Finally, at the individual level, the "pursuit of happiness" might initially appear to support indulging personal desires as an end, casting off restraint. However, the conclusions reached over the past two thousand years acknowledge the opposite as accurate. Aristotle said, "Plainly it is the person who awards himself these goods whom the many habitually call a self-lover… and gratifies the most controlling part of himself, obeying it in everything."
At every level of society, from the individual to meaningful relationships, companies, markets, and our free society, character is fundamental. Character is not a luxury or a nice add-on. But even in our dependence on character and virtue, we are all born completely void of them. This leaves questions to discuss further:
What is character?
How do you develop character?
Who's responsibility is it to develop character?
These questions will be the subjects of future posts. Until then, live a life that flows out towards others.