“Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self respect springs.” ~Joan Didion
First off, I have to take issue with the author’s definition of Character to start with. As one of my favorite authors, philosopher CS Lewis stated (paraphrased), “to take a word that is based on fact, and to make it into a word based on feeling, is to make the word useless.”
A proper definition of character is necessary here I think;
“char·ac·ter –noun: 1. the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
2. one such feature or trait; characteristic. 3. moral or ethical quality: a man of fine, honorable character.
I don’t like when people take a word that has a specific definition and try to redefine it. The willingness to accept responsbility for one’s own life is best left as a complete sentence. There is no shortcut way of saying it in my opinion, but if one were to insist on using “one word”, I would suggest “self-responsibility”, certainly not “character”. To “slap” a complete idea with one word just to make a “short word”, without considering the basic definition is unfair to the word that’s being used erroneously.
Having said that, there is the rest of the quote to deal with: “// The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self respect springs.
I have to respectfully disagree with this portion of the quote as well, although at first glance I certainly appreciate taking responsiblity for one’s life, and a sense of self-respect.
I think taking responsibility for one’s life can be the BEGINNING of GOOD character, and as one develops good character, a sense of self-respect can sprout forth. However, willingness to take responsibility and actually being responsible and making responsible decisions are two very different things. A person who starts out with POOR character- one who steals, lies and cheats, can have all the good intentions in the world, but unless the person begins to take actions that are correlated with responsible living, which is a trait of good character, that willingness won’t foster much self-respect. I think it’s the repetition of good behavior oriented toward becoming a person of good character that will grow self-respect, which in turn is may help to build good character.
Surely I don’t mean to say that it isn’t important to accept responsiblity for those values in my life, because I can’t begin a JOURNEY to good character, without that step, but I think it is a building block towards good character, and that good character fosters self-respect.
To take it a step further, I think that self-respect can also stem from a very deep, penetrating sense of being loved. For me personally that sense comes from my faith in God and in His love for me. My respect is not because I am so great for all that I am, but rather I love myself because I was lovingly made, unique and special, by a creator who cares personally for me.
Journal writing prompt bonus: In your journal, list the qualities that a person has that you consider a person of character? Are these qualities the same for everyone you consider persons of character? Is it different, according to the person? What is your internal definition of a person with character?
Again I part ways from the very beginning, because I believe the word “character” is used incorrectly here. This question seems to imply that “character” is good in and of itself, but that is not true. Character means to me that which was stated above- it is the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing – which means there could be inumerable traits, both good and bad which make up a person’s character.
With that out of the way, if I were to slightly change the wording by listing the qualities of a person of GOOD character, they would basically include my list of my own most important values:
Responsibility (self- as in the above discussion)
For each person that I consider of good character I definitely will see different character traits. They might have different traits than those above, but I think anyone I would consider good character will have at least several of these traits in common. I think the people with different personalities will tend to show differing good character traits in the public eye. For example, a person who tends to be quiet, might very well be courageous, but the trait more likely to “pop” out to me might be humility or patience.