The root of our word “character” comes from the ancient Greek charassein, meaning to engrave or etch. Your character is part of who you are, but developing it takes time.
A stone carving such as Michaelangelo’s David is not made in one strike. Likewise, a strong human character is not created overnight. It comes through the continual practice of virtue. Little by little, our character is defined by our thoughts and actions, brought into relief over time.
However, the virtues that make up an excellent character are developed through practice. One does not become patient without having to wait, nor brave without facing danger. Some may be more predisposed to certain virtues than others, but the fact remains that without trials, virtue would never be seen or practiced.
Extending this thinking to its conclusion, you’ll find that life’s challenges, if approached with the right mindset, are what build character. Almost paradoxically, it is the hard or bad things that are the most beneficial. This is an unrevolutionary idea dating back to the ancients, but it is a sound one.
The Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote De Providentia—Of Providence—which sought to answer the question of why bad things happen to good people. His thesis is best summarized in this oft-quoted paraphrase: “No one seems to me more unhappy than the man whom no misfortune has ever befallen. He never has had an opportunity of testing himself.”
This sentiment is shared in the biblical book of James, which exhorts us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Although tragedies, such as medical emergencies and the death of loved ones, still occur in America, when compared to human history and much of the world today, we are unaccustomed to hardship. We are out of practice, you may say.
When we face troubles, it is important to remember that it is for our own good. Paul tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
I want to leave you with an excerpt from Seneca’s De Providentia, which more effectively addresses the question of character and hardship than I ever could:
“Why do they suffer certain miseries? It is that they may teach others how to do so. They are born as patterns. Conceive, therefore, that God says: "You, who have chosen righteousness, what complaint can you make of me? I have encompassed other men with unreal good things and have deceived their inane minds as it were by a long and misleading dream. I have bedecked them with gold, silver, and ivory, but within them, there is no good thing. Those men whom you regard as fortunate, if you could see, not their outward show, but their hidden life, are really unhappy, mean, and base, ornamented on the outside like the walls of their houses. That good fortune of theirs is not sound and genuine. It is only a veneer, and that a thin one. As long, therefore, as they can stand upright and display themselves as they choose, they shine and impose upon one; when something occurs to shake and unmask them, we see how deep and real a rottenness was hidden by that factitious magnificence. To you, I have given sure and lasting good things, which become greater and better the more one turns them over and views them on every side. I have granted to you to scorn danger, to disdain passion. You do not shine outwardly; all your good qualities are turned inwards. Even so does the world neglect what lies without it and rejoices in the contemplation of itself. I have placed every good thing within your own breasts: it is your good fortune not to need any good fortune.”
Nick Treglia is a student at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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