We know character is vital in every area of our life, see The Need for Character blog, and most would agree that we all should try to have more character. But before we try to develop character, we need to know, what is character exactly. Especially in our diverse society, you probably describe character differently than I do or the person you do business with. Whose character definition should we use when we develop character? Are we really that different? If we step back and look around, maybe all our descriptions of character are more similar than not.
For thousands of years, the fields of religion and philosophy have produced various frameworks for character with the hopes of positively influencing moral behavior. They knew that to be successful in developing character, they needed to describe character in detail. I’d like to spend this blog post reviewing character frameworks from across time and around the world. Differences in our ideas of character could keep us from trying to develop it. However, I believe there are enough similarities – nuanced differences in character should not be an excuse to avoid developing character in our teams. Benjamin Franklin [link] agreed: “In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalogue more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name.” There is a character framework for humanity, and I think it will resonate with you.
Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates aimed for eudaimonia or living well by living out virtues. Over the past few decades, virtue ethics has breathed new life into this 2,000 year old framework. We’ll talk ethical theories in another post – they’re more interesting than you might think.)
Plato began with a simple list of cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
Plato’s student, Aristotle, expanded the list to twelve:
bravery in the face of fear,
temperance in the face of pleasure or pain,
generosity with wealth and possessions,
magnificence with great wealth and possessions,
magnanimity with great honors,
proper ambition with normal honors,
mildness (or patience),
truthfulness with self-expression,
wittiness in conversation,
friendliness in social conduct,
modesty in the face of shame or shamelessness,
righteous indignation in the face of injury.
The Jewish Torah and prophets provide a collection of 613 commandments. However, the foundation lies in the Ten Commandments, which have many behavioral directives such as not lying, stealing, or killing. They also address motivation or affective instructions like jealousy and honor. Jesus distills all 613 commandments into two:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
In effect, Jesus was saying that if you love God and love people, you will satisfy all 613 rules. This is the idea behind virtue ethics – that a simple set of guiding values will produce the good behaviors an extensive set of rules is designed to produce.
Benjamin Franklin, as noted earlier, researched a broad set of virtues from different cultures and times and came up with his own set of thirteen virtues. Because Franklin was building his list to develop virtue (or character) in himself and others, he needed more detailed or refined traits rather than just a few broad traits.
We will discuss his approach to developing character in another post.
temperance – eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation;
silence – speak not but what may benefit others or yourself, avoid trifling conversation;
order – let all your things have their places, let each part of your business have its time;
resolution – resolve to perform what you ought, perform without fail what you resolve;
frugality – make no expense but to do good to others or yourself, i.e., waste nothing;
industry – lose no time, be always employ’d in something useful, cut off all unnecessary actions;
sincerity – use no hurtful deceit, think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly;
justice – wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty;
moderation – avoid extremes, forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve;
cleanliness – tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation;
tranquility – be not disturbed at trifles or at accidents common or unavoidable;
humility – imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Confucianism holds five central virtues
The jen or benevolence
The i or righteousness
The chih or wisdom
The li or ritual
The hsin or good faith
Similarly, Taoism rests on five virtues of
Contemporary frameworks for character such as Positive Psychology, the US Air Force Academy, and the Search Institute are on the rise, which is encouraging. These frameworks vary in their categories, number of traits, and emphasis, and Mark Liston surveys some of the most popular ones to create a common framework called the Character Taxonomy.
With a close look, there is much alignment and consistency, supporting the idea that all these ideas on character might be describing the same desired virtue for humanity.
Making Character your Own
Using many of these sources as well as mission and other identity statements, we developed a framework of seven traits at Hallmark University. This framework is consistent with the sources you see above, but it is uniquely adapted for the professional degree focus and Judeo-Christian foundation of the university.
During my time as President at Hallmark University, creating a character development program was some of our most important work. Before we could create this program, we needed to agree and articulate what character meant to our organization. Wanting to become intentional about character is probably why all the frameworks above exist. If you are courageous to take this journey with your team (or family), you will need to do the same and articulate what character is to you.
Review these examples and look deeply in your heart for where your faith rests, then start making a list. Creating your own character framework is foundational to becoming intentional about developing your own character and the character of those around you. Of course, if you want Integreaters to help, drop us a note. We complete this review for most organizations in just a couple weeks.