Recently, I was asked, via essay question, what my definition of “good character” was. My response actually took a bit of time to compose, as I must confess that I’ve never really understood the assertion that someone has a “good character.” In fact, I’d go so far as to say that merely stating that someone “has a good character” seems a bit of an empty compliment, especially if that’s all that’s said of that person. Perhaps it’s just my own flawed impression, but “he has a good character” seems to have an unpleasant undercurrent. It’s almost as if the speaker is really saying, “Oh, bless his heart, he means well, but…” Having good intentions is something, but as we all can attest, they must come to some sort of fruition in order to actually do any good.
That’s why, should anyone ever tell me of a “good character” they know, I intend to reply: “That’s wonderful. What do you mean by that?” Or perhaps a better question would be: “How so?” To me, a “good character” is an empty shell that has to be filled with good actions. What’s more, if someone truly does have a good character, it’ll be revealed by what they do.
A classic example of someone with good character is the Biblical figure of Job. In Job 1:11, he is described as “…blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” I’ll freely admit that in everyday life, saying someone “turns from evil” may seem a bit melodramatic. No matter what one’s definition of evil, most everyone will agree that some things in life are bad, or at least harmful. So, when a job candidate is recommended on the basis of his “good character,” the recommender is in effect saying that this potential employee won’t lead said company to harm. The applicant knows what the right is, and, to the best of his or her ability, does it.
But then, what is “the right?” As a Christian, the “right” for me hearkens back to Job, to “fear[ing] God.” As a college student, I am meant to exude my university’s so-called “core values:” excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service. As I see nothing in them that contradicts my Christian worldview, I will consider them to be part of this “right.”
In our modern age, deciding to strive for excellence, for honesty, to become a leader, to remain loyal, to practice respect, and to deny oneself in favor of others is becoming increasingly harder. Unfortunately, at the same time, the standard of “good character” has perhaps gone down as well. That is why, for me, the key quality a “good character” must have is “discernment.” It’s not a word that is used often today, but I like it nonetheless. The Oxford American Dictionary defines discernment as “the ability to judge well.” Thus, a person’s good character will allow them to discern what is good and evil, and then, it will cause them to turn from the wrong, towards the right.
To truly posses a “good character” you cannot just mean well, but you have to strive, with all that is in you, to do well. Looking back over this sentence I just wrote, this seems to be a rather obvious assertion. But, be that as it may, it’s still a true one, and one that I intend to keep in mind for the sake of my own character.