Character Development

A Personal Lesson in the Importance of 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.

Character Development

Reasons for Choosing Character Development

In my previous post on the meaning of character development, I explained how character development is an approach to personal development that I would like to focus on for this year.

In this post I would like to explain my reasons for choosing character development as my approach for the year and when is it a suitable approach to take.

Although I’ve had an interest in personal development for a number of years, and have been shaping and re-shaping my beliefs throughout these years, I haven’t 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.

Why is this important?

Principles, by themselves, can seem abstract, impractical and meaningless. You can have beliefs you feel strongly about, but if you don’t know how they should be translated into personal conduct, you will always live in a contradiction, where your beliefs don’t match your actions. Not because you are lying about your beliefs, but because you haven’t given their practical meaning much thought.

There are people who don’t think on the level of beliefs. In fact, they may even struggle to express their beliefs, simply because they think on the level of behaviors. They accept that some behaviors lead to positive results and others lead to negative results, and their interest in personal development is on how to be able to change their behaviors and to stick to their changes by forming new habits.

The problem with this approach is that their new habits may lack direction, and other habits can sabotage the effort they are putting in to forming their habits. For example, suppose someone wants to be able to build better relationships. He identifies one bad habit he possesses: he doesn’t listen to others when they speak. Therefore, to overcome this bad habit, he decides to not cut people off while they are speaking, to pay attention to what’s being said and to respond with something relevant to what was mentioned.

Now, he may develop this new habit, to the delight of his acquaintances. However, when he responds to what he hears, he speaks sarcastically, and may even mock others for their views. Although he overcame one bad habit, he overlooked another habit that is jeopardizing his relationships!

It is overwhelming to consider habits separately, without grouping them under meaningful principles that relate to different areas of our lives. To “pay attention to what others say” and to “not be sarcastic” are both habits that belong to the principle of treating others with respect in the area of social relations.

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 should make one point clear: I will NOT be developing all the characteristics I want to possess, or abandoning all my bad habits this year! This isn’t my aim, and I don’t think it’s a very practical target to aim for.

To make character development my focus for 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.

What habits do I need to have in order to be patient? Reliable? Helpful? Attentive? Etc? (Ok, the last one isn’t a habit!)

In my next post I’ll share with you a personal experience that made me realize the importance of character development.

Character Development

What IS Character Development, Anyway?

Personal development and character development seem to have the same meaning. So isn’t it vague to say that my focus for the new year is “character development”? As if the entire subject of personal development is my focus, which isn’t really a FOCUS!

To better explain what “character development” is, it’s important to distinguish it from personal development. To do this, I will give a very basic overview of what personal development covers and how character development fits into it.

An Overview of Personal Development

While there’s a lot more detail to include, but a very simple break down of the components that make up personal development are:

Beliefs: These form our understanding of the world and how we relate to it. Do we believe in God? Do we believe in the Law of Attraction? Do we believe that intuition is a reliable basis for judgment? What is our purpose in life? Do we believe success is possible for us?

Principles: These are a condensation of our beliefs into values we uphold and seek to live by. We can believe that human beings have free will and that our prosperity lies in exercising our free will without being forced into any decision against our will. Therefore, the principle would be: “I should make my own decisions about my life.”

Character: This is the extent to which our principles are ingrained in our being and what impression people (including ourselves) form about us. Being truthful, patient, kind, ambitious, etc. are all character traits that we possess based on the principles we truly live by (and not those we wish to live by).

Habits: These are the ways we consistently behave that reveal fragments of our character, and what we use to determine what a person’s character is. We say that a person is truthful when he consistently speaks the truth, or patient when he consistently acts patiently in the face of challenges.

Behaviors: These are the ways we conduct ourselves in any given moment. They depend on the extent to which we are committed to our principles, how clear our principles are and our awareness of how our principles should be translated into practice. You may believe that respecting others is important, but don’t realize how that should be done.

As can be seen from this overview of personal development, character development is only a branch of personal development and not another name for it. To be more accurate, it is an approach to personal growth that puts Character as the focus, and seeks to define everything else based on character traits and the person you wish to become.

In the next post we will look at how character development can be carried out!

Character Development

My Focus for the New Year

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 of the last year I was planning on making my career the focus of the new year as I wanted to make a massive shift in that area of my life. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to direct my focus in a different direction: towards myself.

There’s a difference between having my career as the focus and having myself as the focus: when my career is the focus I will deal mainly with career decisions and what I can produce in order to head in the direction that I want. When I am the focus, I intend on increasing my capacity to produce and to develop virtues that will serve me both in my career and in other areas of my life.

Having my career as the focus will mean that I am aiming for the direction I want to head in, whereas focusing on myself will mean that I am aiming for the person I want to become.

I will explain the difference more clearly in the upcoming days, as well as give pointers on how this approach can be taken, including examples from my own life.

Therefore, my focus for the new year is: My personal character development. 😀