Sunday, June 2, 2013

A View of Character

Over on Google+, one Jim Pries alerted me to a link that another user had shared to an article about Character. Namely about how we should expect others to have it, and avoid defending those who lack it to those who expect it from them. I, for my part, do not normally care to be the "judgmental" type. (How good I am at being otherwise, however, is not for me to determine.) This is not to say that I don't make determinations as to who I do and do not like, and would be willing to hang around with. I just don't find attempts to make this into an objective determination, using terms such as "character" or "a quality person" to be useful. Reading this prompted me to think about why.

As I see it, most systems of honor, morality, character, ethics, et cetera, work on a very simple premise - there are times when, regardless of its utility, selfishness is inappropriate. Simple enough. The trick is figuring out when those times are. Different people draw different lines. For some people, death is preferable to certain selfish acts. For others, life is the most important thing. And when things aren't cut and dried when life and death are on the line, other situations can become downright random.

Any system that doesn't deal in absolutes tends to become caught up in the subjective realm of human perception. And this is where something interesting occurred to me. I'd soured on the concept of "honor" some years ago, having come to the conclusion that it was too often used as a way of sneering at people who couldn't afford the luxury of having a higher priority than doing whatever it took to win. In the same way, I realized, morality, character and ethics also expected that someone take the position that they had the luxury of forgoing certain advantages otherwise available to them.

To a degree, all of these things are a matter of perception, whether or not we choose to treat them that way. Viewed this way, it neatly wrapped up why poor people were often considered to be lacking in these areas. Wealthier people, who faced little in the way of serious consequences for letting certain opportunities get away from them created a standard of judgment that required that everyone act as though they had that luxury (sometimes even while castigating those who reached for more material luxuries they could manage to scrape together the price of). For myself, perception is always a matter for the individual. If someone doesn't see themselves as having the luxury of being honest, then so be it. I wouldn't associate with that person, however. But not because of their supposed "character flaw" but simply for my own purposes.

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