From the category archives:

Character Development

Less than a week before the launch of this site, I was feeling worried that I might not meet my deadline (the one I promised my friend Khalid I will finish the site by. He always insists that I work by fixed dates). I was taking my family (wife and twins) to the Scientific Center for them to meet up with my in-laws, and I was going to meet up with my brother to design this site.

When we arrived at the Scientific Center, I had to go through the parking lot to drop my family off. As I took the ticket going in, I told the ticket man that I’m only dropping my family off, and won’t be parking in the parking lot. When I came to leave, he told me that I would have to pay.

The amount wasn’t much, but I was enraged and lost my temper. I told him that I didn’t park, and won’t be paying. He can call the manager for me to talk to. When he called the manager, he said: “There is someone by the gate who doesn’t want to pay,” without explaining why I didn’t want to pay. I got out of the car to grab the phone off him, but he had put the receiver down by the time I got to the window.

He told me that the manager would pay on my behalf, because he wasn’t going to come down to resolve the issue, and opened the gate for me.

Some might see this as a victory. I got my way, and didn’t have to pay. But considering the principles I had to trample on to get to that point, it really wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t how I should have behaved, if I wanted to uphold my principles.

To clarify what I mean, I should mention some of the principles that I abandoned in this single incident.

The Forgotten Principles

Although the entire incident didn’t last more than five minutes, there were a handful of principles involved. Before I list the principles, I should point out that these aren’t universal principles others want me to uphold, which I’m not entirely convinced about. These are principles that I have come to embrace based on my personal research and convictions.

These aren’t principles that I should uphold out of religious obligation or social conventions. These are principles I want to uphold, given my beliefs and values. They are my principles, and I want to live by them.

  • Reason over emotions: The primary principle that I ignored during this incident is the importance of acting appropriately, without being led by my emotions. I gave up control over my decisions to what I was feeling at the moment, which led to me behaving in a way that’s against my principles
  • Being respectful: Regardless of who I’m talking to, I believe people deserve respect. I certainly didn’t show the ticket man the respect he deserved. I expressed my anger, and was very rude in my behavior
  • Welcoming foreigners: Foreigners don’t usually feel they have rights in a foreign country, especially where the nationals feel superior, and would treat them with disrespect. I don’t like the way foreigners are sometimes treated, and I try to show them that I don’t see a difference between me and them. While I would have been equally enraged if the ticket man was a Kuwaiti, and don’t think I would have behaved any differently, this might not be the way the ticket man saw it. I am sure he still felt like an outcast, who is being disrespected because he’s not from this country
  • Being fair: The ticket man was only doing his job. He didn’t have the authority to decide whether I should pay or not. In fact, if he hadn’t spoken to his manager and let me through, he might have gotten into trouble. That’s not what he deserves, and I shouldn’t expect him to shoulder the responsibility of correcting the policies his superiors place
  • Making others happy: It’s very easy to contribute to the happiness or the misery of others. You can mock someone, or praise him, and the results will be drastically different. I want to contribute to people’s happiness, and this can be done by choosing the right words and the right behavior. I certainly didn’t contribute to the ticket man’s happiness, and he would have been much happier if he hadn’t met me

As can be seen, my behavior contradicted my principles. This is enough to signal a problem that I need to work on. It’s very easy to come up with excuses for why I behaved the way I did. In fact, my default thought pattern was directed towards finding excuses to justify my behavior.

The “Excuses”

I think it’s very easy to look for triggers we can blame for the way we behave:

  • I had a deadline to meet
  • My brother was waiting for me
  • I was stuck in traffic for a long time, going to a place I didn’t want to go to
  • My son was crying and misbehaving
  • The parking policy is irrational because people are being forced to go through the parking lot to get to the doors
  • The ticket man wasn’t cooperating

Who Am I Kidding?

Let’s assume all these excuses are valid: I wanted to act nicely, but the people and circumstances around me pushed me to behave in the way that I behaved.

Where does that leave my principles? Don’t I want to live by them? Is it really enough to say that others led me to abandon the principles I cherish? And when exactly should I be living by my principles, if I’m willing to abandon them under the slightest pressure?

There’s no amount of excuses in the world that can justify me abandoning my principles. Principles are meant to be practiced fully. And if I’m not living by my principles, then there’s an inconsistency I need to resolve.

The Bigger Picture

This incident didn’t simply reveal the potential I have in giving up my principles when I’m under pressure, but that I am consistently acting against my principles in daily life! Simple gestures can signal different meanings. You might have your eyes fixed on your computer screen while others talk to you, when a simple acknowledgment of their presence can give them a sense of respect you would not have expressed otherwise.

I realized how distant I was from the person I want to be, and how I wasn’t fully conscious of my principles in daily life, or how my principles should be put into practice in the first place. What sort of behaviors show others that they are respected? And how can I consistently act in a way that upholds my principles?

This incident was a powerful lesson for me in the importance of character development. I realized the extent to which I have been overlooking this issue.

What Now?

It’s fortunate for me that I am willing to admit when I’m wrong. After passing through the gate I parked my car and went over to the ticket man to apologize for my behavior. But the fact remains that when it comes to showing respect, it isn’t a characteristic that’s fully ingrained in my character. But I want it to be. I want to act consistently regardless of the circumstances surrounding me.

I would like to be aware of the principles I uphold and how to become a person that upholds these principles consistently in daily life.

This is what character development is about, and I’ll be writing a great deal more about this subject to help myself become the person I want to be, and to help others achieve the same goal for themselves.

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Reasons for Choosing Character Development

January 10, 2009

Theory

  • Purpose of Post: To explain my reasons for choosing character development as my approach for the year, and when is it a a suitable approach to take
  • I have never come up with a list of virtues I would really like to possess, and the list of vices that I would like to abandon or avoid
  • Some people have clearly defined principles but don’t know how to put them into practice. This leads them to act in ways that conflict with their principles
  • Others focus on developing habits, without knowing what principles they belong to. This could lead them to develop one habit while overlooking other habits that sabotage their efforts.
  • For example: being attentive when others speak can help build relations. But if you are sarcastic when you respond to what others have to say, you will not be able to advance your relations the way you wish
  • Character traits combine a number of habits to represent them. Being patient isn’t tied to a single habit. It’s demonstrated by a number of habits in different situations
  • The two main reasons why I want to take the approach of character development are:

  • To put my principles into practice

  • To more clearly recognize the habits that demonstrate the characteristics I wish to possess

  • I will NOT be developing all the characteristics I want to possess, or abandoning all my bad habits this year!
  • This year will involve me defining the characteristics I want to possess and to identifying the habits that fall under each characteristic, so that I can have a clearer plan for my personal development efforts.

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What IS Character Development, Anyway?

January 5, 2009

Theory

  • Character development and personal development are not the same thing
  • Personal development: A basic overview of personal development is that it covers the following 5 areas:
    • Beliefs: Our understanding of the world, and our relation to it (e.g. whether we believe in God, trust our intuition, if it is possible for us to succeed, etc)
    • Principles: The values we uphold and seek to live by (e.g. “I want to exercise my free will in making choices in my life”)
    • Character: The principles we actually live by and the characteristics that can be attributed to us, based on our conduct (e.g. being truthful, patient, etc)
    • Habits: The way we consistently behave
    • Behaviors: Our conduct at any given moment
  • Character development makes “Character” the focus, and considers everything else from the point of view of character
    • It is a branch of personal development and, more accurately, an approach to personal development

Practice

  • Check again for the upcoming posts, where we will look at how character development should be approached :D

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My Focus for the New Year

January 4, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions come in all shapes and sizes. Dropping a bad habit (e.g. smoking), adopting a new habit (e.g. regular exercise), completing a project (e.g. a website), starting a project (e.g. um… a website?) and developing virtuous traits (e.g. truthfulness) are all different types of resolutions and ways to develop as individuals.
Towards the end [...]

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