Have you gone into a place of business or made a call into an organization lately and wondered what has happened to humanity? I surely wonder that when I am driving with my children and people cut me off in such a hurry, only to get to the next red light first, or when people fail to look up from their devices to hold the door for the next person behind them. There seems to be some absenteeism of kindness these days. More than kindness, our society may have lost sight of what it means to be good humans.
When we experience these unfortunate behaviors, it might be the character of individuals that is truly lacking. Character includes the virtues and moral or ethical qualities and traits individuals use to respond appropriately in pursuit of the common good in different situations. Character is how we function and collaborate in a common society. Thus, it is important to consider the kind of character we display in our interactions. What is good character and why does it matter?
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Character is made up of virtues. Virtues are positive personal strengths that enable behaviors and actions that reflect high moral standards. Virtues are empowering and are key to fulfilling an individual’s potential. No definitive list of virtues can be given, as the virtues will, to a certain extent, be relative to individual constitution, developmental stage and social circumstance. However, a general idea can be broken into four categories of virtues:
Although virtues can be divided into distinct categories, they form a coherent, mutually supportive whole in a well-rounded life. Each virtue type is important when considering the whole person as they work collaboratively with guidance from the meta-virtue, practical wisdom.
Moral virtues like compassion, honesty, gratitude and respect guide social connections. Intellectual virtues such as critical thinking, judgment, reasoning and resourcefulness enable problem solving and support the pursuit of knowledge. Performance virtues, such as confidence and teamwork equip individuals to navigate life and uncertainty. Civic virtues like civility, service and community awareness support citizenship and community.
A coherence of virtues such as curiosity (intellectual), compassion (moral), justice (civic), and resilience (performance), is what balances an individual and develops a whole. Each individual can develop their virtues, virtue perception and virtuous actions over time. While each of the given examples of virtue are important to possess, when and how we deploy them is what determines good character from bad character.
For example, consider the virtues of resilience and determination. While each of these might be considered good, it depends on the context. A criminal might have resilience and determination but the times they are using them are not for the best reasons (from a general perspective). They most certainly are not using them for the common good either.
Good character lies in the intentions and morality of the individual. When an individual considers the context of situations, perceives the virtues present and acts in pursuit of the common good, they are demonstrating good character. It is about doing the right thing for all involved, not just oneself. This is also called practical wisdom.
Practical wisdom is a meta-virtue that guides individuals in making decisions when two or more virtues collide. This helps us determine what is morally right in a given situation so we can discern which virtue to put into action. We must consider the situation, the people involved, the varying perspectives, pros and cons of action choices, and what the good life is about in order to display practical wisdom. The good life is not what satisfies us in the moment, but what it means to live to your fullest potential and morally well for the common good. Thus, good character means using practical wisdom and living that good life in pursuit of human flourishing for all.
What Is the Importance of Character?
Having good character matters in this world because we all want to live our best life. But, can we live our best life and to our fullest potential if we do not have a society conducive to that? We are in this life together; we are a humanity together. Our character matters in our interactions and daily functioning. Good people with good character make a better society for us all to live and exist in. Being a good human, making good decisions, doing good - this is all good character.
When faced with adversity and challenges, it is good character that allows us to overcome and make morally right choices. By showing good character through our actions, we are modeling for others around us. The contagion of good character spreads like wildfire! When you see others doing good, don’t you feel inspired to do good? Consider these moral exemplars of good character that inspire others to do the good:
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Mother Teresa
- Nelson Mandela
Every profession needs good humans. Educators are faced with dilemmas every day. Lawyers, doctors, grocery clerks - all professions where virtues collide and humanity is needed. When faced with these decisions and when interacting with others, every individual needs good character and good decision making. If each of us could enhance our character, that would mean better service, more ethical decisions, more justice and more equity. Think about doctors that make decisions based on personal desires rather than patient needs, lawyers that seek personal gain over client rights, or dishonesty in customer service. If we want to live in a society worth living in, we need good character.
Who you are in this world matters. How you treat others, how you interact, the decisions you make, this all relates back to your character, and it matters in the grand scheme of society. If we wish to live in a better society, we need to consider our character and how we build character in others. It is good character that is needed if we wish to flourish in this society. Your character is the starting place. How are you demonstrating good character?
At Grand Canyon University, you can earn a teaching and school administration degree. If you are on your path to becoming a qualified educator, GCU’s College of Education can help you get there with informative classes and hands-on teaching experiences.
Approved by the dean of the College of Education on Aug. 21, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.