You can tell people who have character because they are constantly dying (suffering) to an old way of life and being reborn (struggling) to a new way of life. To live in the void and make this transformation in our lives requires a strong belief in the people who we admire, humility, and  possess single minded purposefulness toward achieving those goal-standards set by those people who we admire. This takes character. Without it, each individual is constantly fighting temptation to seek pleasure, avoide pain, find status and focus or obtaining prestige.. Those individuals with character accept, adopt and follow higher-ordered principles despite the social animal-based temptations. When we place “character development” as the goal instead of avoiding temptations, we stand on a new footing in this world. We no longer need to be convicted by external principles; We become self-convicted. We begin to measure our performance by internally based standard rather than by the approval or disapproval of the group. This internalizing of external standards is the key. These standards become the perfromance regulators.  They are used to downward regulate our pro-social behavor. We now can be convicted by the group without being defensive because we know that there is some truth to the group’s criticism. We knowi it, but many time we avoid saying it to ourselves. We will take under consideration that we are not meeting up to the standards, and we will or will not make adjustment to our behavior.  This decision is ours because we have fallen short of the internal standands rather than feeling shamed of not meeting the stardards set by others. This is when we have character.


How Do We Develop It?

Character is the capacity and ability to regulate behavior based upon some higher-ordered principles. When an individual overcomes temptation of pleasure or pain avoidance or does not go along with the crowd, they are expressing character. They have it. By their behavior, they are expressing higher-ordered principles. They are making a choice to overcome their instinctual desires and their social training to follow different governance. The place in the brain where character resides must be above all other systems because by these principles people can be used to downward regulate our social and instinctual behavior.  Without this capability, behavior would be generally modified by Pavlov’s operant conditioning. In fact, the do’s and don’ts of organized religion and a parental God who resides as the judge provides operant condition through fear of being cast out of the group. Individuals whose character is still in the child stage are controlled by this method. In the broadest sense, prisons provide a place to live for individuals without character. I liken it to the Zoo where the animals have keepers that look after their basic needs and provide a modicum of control for their behavior.

Young children, especially a toddler, might be characterized by the simple imperative of “mine.” Everything they touch, see, feel, smell, hear is theirs; especially if another person has it. Young children’s behavior is governed by self-interest without any consideration of others. This behavior is instinctual. It’s apparent in the backyard animals. Watch the squirrels, or the birds at the feeder. Larger, more aggressive animals get fed first; mothers feed their children; males dominate; and most of these creatures are opportunity eaters.

Social animals

Humans are social in nature. The second part of brain development is being programmed by the environment. The brain records the distinctions between what infant wants to do versus what one must do to gain attention and approval of the parents. The attachment circuit drives the infant, and toddler toward pleasing and thus gaining a sense of belonging by getting the approval of the adults. Mother’s smile is the sunlight; focused sunlight, warm and healing, shining only on my face. This sense of the sunlight becomes internalized as the child becomes older. This sunlight is what shines through the confident person eyes. Mary Dinsmore Salter Ainsworth ( studies showed that by 1 years old, only 65% of children had gained confidence in their sun while 35% were still uncertain.

We might reframe the motivational forces driving instincts as egoistic or self-interested while the social, programmable section of the brain might be called empathetic, or other interested. The frontal lobes of the brain provide the capability of resolving conflicts between the self and others. Here is where principles come into play. By comparing the needs of self and the needs of others to the inculcated principles, the choice of self and of other becomes obvious. However, without these principles, the person remains conflicted. No higher-ordered basis to provide guidance for their behavior without principles. Thus, the brain must develop in a character rich environment where parents set the appropriate containment for each child’s personality; demonstrate princples over a long period of time; and there is a pay-off for the child by demonstrating these principles through love, acceptance and belonging by the parents.

What are the odds: Adults with character step-up when they must

Human resource departments use a phony measurement called Employee Engagement. Gallup Consulting who does these studied over a very large sample reports that 30% are engaged, while 70% are not engaged. And of the 70%, 50% are not engaged while 20% are actively disengaged. Another interpretation is that 20% of the work force are still Children, 50% are Adolescents, and 30% have achieved Adulthood. Does this mean that only 30% have character? Does it mean that these individuals have achieved fully formed personalities and are able to regulate themselves by principles? Those principles which they take on such as “mission oriented” as a work life style? The answer is emphatically yes. These individuals do not need to be managed! They have character. How would we train supervisors to manage the other two groups? The Adolescents need mentors while the children need parents. So which of these three groups do I trust with my money?

Why I call the Employee Engagement measures phony is that a third of the work force could obtain a mental illness diagnosis (DSM IV) any day of the week. How the world actually works, is that we are not all crazy on the same day. The Humble manager honors and respects this fact while the Arrogant one has expectations that discount the fact that we are all crazy including the manager. I used to think that the average of 5.5 was meaningful. 68% of the ppopulation whould score around that on any trait. But after thousands of hours as a clinitian, and 30 years in various management roles, I conclude that people are either 1 or 10, not 5.5. We could not have such polarity in political opinion without a bimodal distribution.

Where do higher-order principles come from?

Crisis is usually the opening in our lives to begin to make this journey from the animal-social world to a principle-driven life style. The crisis that I am speaking of is the failure of the known. . . our assumptions, our fantasies of our childhood and youth, do not hold water any longer. We become a sea without a rudder, or have no clear direction. At this point the possibility for a new way of life  begins to happen. We are not the center of the universe after all but rather only an actor in a grander scheme of humanity.  Things can happen to us. We can develop cancer; our teeth do fall out; we can be divorced; and our children might hate us.  The infallibility, the all powerful, tantrum-throwing child, has reached the point of having to make a change. Retreating has already been tried, now we must go forward. Our character fuels the energy and motivation to take a step into the desert of change, the movement into the void. Those completely devoid of such, blames other for their dilemmas. People, places, and things have failed them but they will try again. Sometimes they rile against people, places, and things by seeking revenge. The morning newspaper is full of murder, theft, divorce, etc. . .all symptoms of this type of disorder.


Others have come before us, reaching this jumping-off point. People, place, and things have failed them and they jumped into the abyss of the unknown.The evidence of those people who wrote about their experiences describes long periods of restlessness, uncertainty, and mental stress. Somehow they were coming to the conclusion their current reality was not working for them, and they were building up the courage to leave. Without some meaningful destination, they stay put, uncomfortable in their dirty diaper of misery.


Those who have the inner strength of character, get up and go without the need for the mythical castle at the end of the rainbow. They are motivated and live securely in the knowledge if the follow the directs of the people who came before, they only have to follow a tried and tested path. No need for innovation or new discovery, but only the ability to execute. They move forward into new experiences. What are the treasures that they find? Principles! Life to this individual with character is like playing Mario. They just bounce along collecting and eventually using these magical principles. Obstacles become hurdles to surmount.


Some people want us to believe that it is faith in something that is unseen that makes this change possible but I posit, it is experiences of our own past successes or failures, the leadership and guidance of individuals who came before us along the path who show us the way, and principles that we find useful to live a prosperous, productive, and fearless life. These are what loosen the binds to the present and lower our existential anxiety to live life with personal growth as a new and challenging goal rather than seeing who has the biggest pile of person, places, and things at the end of life’s walk.

Yes, that person who guides us might be a great spiritual leader. What I am saying is that they taught us how to live and gave us the principles to use that are timeless. I can believe in innovation as a way to economic progress but it requires character to become an innovator!


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