What does it mean to have “good character?” There are many answers to this question. But when I think of someone’s character I am considering many things, including trustworthiness. When someone is described as having good character, to me that means something like the person is reliable, honest, forthcoming and overall trustworthy.
I’ve also heard “good character” described as something like “doing the right thing when the wrong thing is happening” or “doing the right thing even when no one is looking.” These all seem to fit the profile of people I consider to be of good or high character. And it gives us something to aspire to. But we have no real way to measure the trait of “character” as good or bad. There is no metric that tells us how we are doing. We can only get that from the world around us.
Last weekend I had the honor of attending a Homegoing service for our Uncle Roger (see former post here). It was one of those memorial services that lasted a long time, but felt like it lasted one moment. Roger’s family, friends, and colleagues of all ages and demographics stepped to the podium to share their experience of Uncle Roger over the last 72 years.
By the fourth or fifth speaker, I started to notice a trend. Words like “warmth” and “always smiling” and “never met a stranger” were said over and over and over again to describe this man. Another common description of him was “He carried everything with Grace, even the tragedies.”
I listened to the same phrases and descriptors coming from saddened and teary voices in every aspect in his life to describe Roger. It occurred to me that another way we could define good character, is to assess the level of consistency with which we might be described by the different people in our lives. Would our family members describe us the same way as our colleagues? Would various roles we play in life be in sync with one another? Or would the descriptions be contradictory? Are we able to show up consistently, no matter what the circumstances or situations?
The short answer is surely no. Because wearing many hats as we all do, we aren’t necessarily 100% consistent at every given moment. Uncle Roger may not have even been either. But it is a goal to shoot for. We can aim to close the gap if we think there might be one. If I were to die today, I imagine some of the same words would be used to describe me by my peers, friends, family and even Zach. But as a human I am imperfect. And I have no way to no for sure, how I am received by others.
And I will not know, because when the memories and stories come out in aggregate I will already be gone. So it’s more of a high bar to reach for: Integrating our character traits consistently, such that we show up as the same person no matter what is happening. And that is the gift I take forward: Imagining that when my last day of life comes and goes, the world around me would have known who I take myself to be. We can all decide to work toward that now.
What would people say at your Homegoing service? That’s a great question to ask yourself to get started. Another route is to write down some words that you would like used to describe you on a piece of paper. Pick the top three or five words that you aim to embody and look at them in the morning and before bed. Check in with yourself and see how you did today. If “warmth” or “always smiling” are desirable traits for you, are you actually living that way?