Abraham Lincoln 1864
There is much to say for the idea that we become good by doing good. As the proverb goes, “Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” Another truth goes deeper. We truly do good on the basis of being good. And our quest for goodness, living the will of God, is met by genuine righteousness, true and beautiful, which comes as the gift of God. Human and divine contributions to character interweave.
Excellent character, strong and well-balanced character, we all can attain. The goal in this philosophy is not just growth, but excellence. Of course, we may choose a more gradual approach and wait to attain it in the next life; however, considering how urgently the planet needs people to be living at that level of best, we may be inspired to accelerate and go for that goal now. The power of God is waiting to leverage our wholehearted commitment.
Character achievement goes beyond breakthroughs to virtues, which are dependable and trustworthy, and beyond individual virtues to their unification in character. The person who thirsts for righteousness is not content with living righteously for a stretch of time and then allowing some event not only to interrupt that momentum but also to launch another stretch of time on a lower level of living. World ping-pong champion Viktor Barna observed that points are won or lost in groups, so that when you lose a point, you must try your best to win the next one. Righteous living requires maintenance.
Darwin, Socrates, Jesus, John Muir, Johann Sebastian Bach, Albert Schweitzer, and Jane Addams did the actions and developed the virtues of noble character. They showed virtues in science, philosophy, and spirituality; aesthetic virtues of receptivity and creativity, and moral virtues of decision and action. What is more, most of them showed blended virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness in a well-rounded character. When these virtues are unified, the resulting character has the fragrance of a person who is participating in the divine life. Virtues pertain to specific types of situation that we have learned to handle well; character responds to the whole of life.
But most of us live far from the heroic level shown in the profiles. The great ones may seem so far above us as to make it unrealistic or depressing to suggest that we grow in the direction of these virtues; but if we give up on growth there is no way to hold our own: we either advance or fall back.
In response, during the next few weeks, we shall observe both the natural and gradual way of growth and the marks of excellent character.
Do you have one or more persons of excellent character who have inspired you in your growth? What characteristics did you especially appreciate in them?