Personality vs. Character

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Recently, from an odd source, I was reminded of a truth which I knew years ago. This is that one’s personality can interfere with personal holiness.

In the States, and in some Western countries, a person’s personality is considered important for many reasons—such as to work in society, to create job connections, especially in business, to make friends, to be successful in school, college, university, and even in church.

Some of us can hear our mom’s voice in our heads telling us to develop our personalities, for reasons of personal happiness and financial success. Remember that gorgeous homecoming queen at your high school, especially in your senior year? She was chosen because she had personality. Same with the head of the cheerleading squad, and the captain of the football team. The youth with personality were the ones in most of the photos in the yearbook.

The same dynamic happened in college, and in jobs. The guys and gals with personality made it to the top—we were told they had “charisma,” and great personalities.

The effort that went into cultivating a popular personality could be seen as a major one of youth and earlier adulthood for many people, especially in the extroverted society of the United States.

(By the way, in tests, extroverts have been the majority of temperaments in North America until the Millennial Generation, which is the first introverted generation of our nation—interesting.)

However, even in so-called introverted populaces, such as in Great Britain, personality has been stressed and it is still connected to the class structure. For example, there is such a thing as an Oxford or Cambridge personality, or a London, or Bristol, or Liverpool one. Sometimes we say, “Oh what a character that person is,” when we refer to someone’s personality.

Character is something completely different. Character is what, hopefully, is created from early childhood, a facet of our personhood, based on the virtues, or not, in some cases.

Maria Montessori wrote that it is the job of the child to create the adult he or she will be. Character is formed very early on, before the age of seven, the age of reason, are the years that the true formation of a person’s character is made. The Jesuits rightly said, regarding their excellent Jesuit tradition of character training in their schools in the past, “Give us a child before the age of five and we have him for life,” meaning that the character of the child is formed early. Montessori knew this from observation and study, from experience and research. So did Piaget.

So, why have we forgotten this truth? Why do we push children into day cares and let their characters be formed by strangers, or worse, television and DVDs?

I encountered a mom in 1999 who let her six year old daughter and all her little friends watch the movie Titanic. Of course, I was appalled. Those little girls’ characters were being formed by immoral images in the movies that mother provided for them. The same is true for such books and movies as the Harry Potter series or Twilight. Character must be formed on virtue in order for the child to be a good, and eventually, holy person. Virtue training starts in the womb. Parents who want to see their children grow into men and women of good character must be aware of virtue training from the git-go.

Children begin sinning, which means that they know right from wrong, as early as five, and definitely by seven, the traditional Church “age of reason.” Character training involves careful input from parents and their interference when vices enter into the consciousness of their children.

Let me give an example close to me. Someone I know well began lying at the age of 6. He did this out of fear, as his father was too strict. This habit of lying followed him throughout his entire life, and now, at almost 70, he is trying to break out of this vice, absolutely part of his character for 64 years. He is working on defensiveness and deceit, and is humble enough to bring these faults to confession frequently.

Some very young children learn to be greedy early on, or mean, or lazy. These sins and imperfections become part of their character. Indeed, they can develop charming personalities which hide serious sins and blemished characters.

Another example, from my side of the pond. Someone recently revealed that they grew up among Oxford graduates, all successful friends of her mother, who would come around for dinner to the house. These men and women holding positions of power in various fields seemed to have nice, English, upper-class personalities. This person said that underneath they were like snakes, truly evil in their characters. The veneer of personality and class did not quite cover up the lack of virtue, seen by this woman when she was a perceptive child. Her word for these people, who would be admired in society, was that they were “reptilian.”

Charming Reptiles. Does this not remind us of that first charming snake in the grass in the Garden of Evil, that Father of Lies, who successfully corrupted Adam and Eve?

Another friend of mine told me about how she and her multi-millionaire husband stopped all their memberships to the local country club on the west coast of the United States. They both became appalled at the lack of character among people of personality—men and women who would come to a cocktail party with the purpose of insulting or “dissing” another member. They related to me one man coming up to another saying, “What would you think if I made a hostile move to take over your company?” The other man, shocked, said that, of course, he would not like that. The first man said, “Too bad, I already have,” and walked away with his drink.

Personality, yes, but, character, no…

I shall write more on this again, but I wanted parents to be aware of the dangers of creating monsters with so-called nice and charming personalities which cover the lack of virtue-based character.

To be continued.


JMJ, Pray for us.

God is good,