Character:

Superhero, Villain, or Somewhere in between?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there are three definitions for character. Since we’re neither concerned with the one relevant to a person in a drama or novel, nor are we concerned with that as of a symbol used in writing, we’ll focus on the other four definitions.

First, there is the “one of the attributes1 or features that make up and distinguish an individual.” Second is that of “Moral excellence and firmness.” Third is that of a “reputation” and the fourth is related to a position or capacity, such as an elected official.

For this month’s blog, we’ll be focused on the matter of The Walk. In other words, how does our character, the way people get to know us based on our social, emotional, and yes spiritual actions and activities represent us as an individual? 

What is CHARACTER?

Character is a culmination of various elements at work in a person. A famous Psychologist, Max Wertheimer, along with two of his colleagues, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka, in the mid-1930’s developed the original Gestalt Theory, which in the simplest sense means, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (Encyclopedia Britannica). In 1935, Kurt Lewin, who came to work alongside of Wertheimer, Köhler, and Koffka, wrote The Dynamic Theory of Personality, wherein he expounded on their original Gestalt theory (Lewin, 1935).   

So, why do I mention this psychological theory? Well, because it emphasizes the point that you are a combination of everything you have been exposed to during your formative years, which has been defined by a host of theorist (Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, and Vygotski), as being the period between birth and typically 12 years of age though some of these theorists have extended to 18 (Gottesman, 1999).

Interestingly, the Gestalt theory aligns very well with the God’s written word, The Bible. Coincidence? I don’t believe so. Here are four quick examples of this:

  • As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7a, New King James Version (NKJV))
  • And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2, NKJV).
  • The thoughts of the righteous are right, but the counsels (meetings) of the wicked are deceitful. 6 The words of the wicked are, “Lie in wait for blood,” but the mouth of the upright will deliver them (Proverbs 12:5-6, NKJV).
  • You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:16, NKJV).

In the 1960’s, the Social Learning Theorists, Bandura, Ross, and Ross, conducted what are known as The Bobo the Clown or Bobo Doll studies, for the purpose of evaluating early age aggressive behaviors (McLeod, 2014). Through those studies, Bandura, et al., were able to empirically prove out what is today referred to as social modelling.

How is it developed or formed?

Character formation is a four-step process and is based on a continuum.

Step 1 – Thought

Step 2 – Action

Step 3 – Habit

Step 4 – Character

Before we ever do something, there is a thought that is or has been tied to it. When we get to the point of it becoming engrained and automatic, that is where we’ve established our character.

Take for example saying something as simple as thank you. Most parents begin teaching their children at an early age the concept of gratitude and respect, through the use of the words thank you and please. Initially, as we are developing this, we are continually reminded that we are to say these things if we desire to get something (please) or when we receive something (thank you). However, as we develop and mature, if consistently placed into practice, this becomes second nature and automatic. 

Studies have been conducted to determine the average length of time it takes for an individual to form a habit. William James (1887) was the first to study and theorize on habit formation (Maguire, 2017). It has been documented that depending upon the level of attention and effort an individual puts in to forming a new habit, it can start to be done in as little as seven days, but on average takes about 21. Some identified that to have a solid habit change takes 66 days (Clear, 2018) and some have documented it taking as many as 254 or approximately 8.5 months (Popova, 2016). Again, the time that it takes to develop a new habit is really dependent upon the level of effort to do so by the individual saying they want to make the change. The character change can only occur once the new habit is firmly established.

So, the question, as the title of this blog asks is, which are you? Some may hope to be a superhero, whereas others have aspired to be villains, but the majority of us seem to fall somewhere in between. Now the next question is, are YOU where YOU want to be? If not, that can be changed, but it is solely up to YOU and no one else. Hopefully, we’re desiring to transition toward minor superhero and not toward evil.

Ok, so let’s define what makes a person notable as having an upright, or otherwise honorable, character. Honestly, it’s not that hard. The problem lies in the individual’s desire to change and the level of effort they are willing to put forth. I assure you, though it might not seem very rewarding as a teen, many adults both recognize and appreciate it.  The KEY attributes of an honorable character are really encompassed in the words of Jesus, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31, NKJV). Many understand this to be The Golden Rule. Those attributes include kindness, compassion, respect, generosity, punctuality, and integrity. All of these are known as positive social traits. They make you not only easy to get along with, but people are often drawn to those who have these traits. If you find someone who operates or lives their daily life contrary to these traits, we often define them as being anti-social. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll turn out to be a criminal or serial killer. It simply means that they will often be left alone and seen as unworthy of any time and love. I mean really, who wants to be around a grouch who rejects friendship and even more so, acts of kindness and love.

Well, I’m going to conclude here with this… If you aren’t who you want to be, or where you desire to be in life, only you can change it. You must be the one to desire the change, and you must be the one to put forth the effort. Lastly, the change you desire, MUST BE FOR YOURSELF. Saying that you’re making a change for someone else or worse yet because someone else said that you must do it, will get you as far as you trying to through a 50,000-pound boulder. In the play Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, “to thine own self be true” and to that I say, no truer words could be said. 

May’s Blog will be a continuation of this one. In preparation, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on the GROUNDED acronym and see how it could be used to help with developing or reforming one’s character. 

Footnotes:

  1. An attribute is what allows something or someone to be separated into a category.   

References and Resources:

Bandura, A (1961). Bobo Doll study. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/bobo-doll.html

Clear, J. (2018) How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science). Article. Retrieved from https://jamesclear.com/new-habit

Gestalt Psychology, Encyclopedia Britannica, retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/ science/Gestalt-psychology

Gottesman, S. (1999). Theories of Early Childhood: Maria Montessori, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/tourosgottesman/ theories-of-early-childhood

Lewin – Gestalt Theory (n.d.). Psychology Encyclopedia. Article. Famous Psychologists & Scientists retrieved from https://psychology.jrank.org/pages/381/Kurt-Lewin.html

Lewin, K. (1935). The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: November 1936 – Volume 84 – Issue 5 – pp 612-61.

Maguire, L.G. (2017). Psychology Of Habit: 3 Maxims Of Habit Formation From William James. Retrieved from https://larrygmaguire.com/psychology-of-habit-william-james/

Popova, M. (2016). How Long It Takes to Form a New Habit. Brain Pickings. Retrieved from https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/02/how-long-it-takes-to-form-a-new-habit/