Chapter 7 – Character
Dear Children—You often hear the word character used, in fact you hear it mentioned almost daily. Now what does this word character mean? Has it reference to your mind, your heart, or your intentions, is it an independent part of yourselves? No, indeed. Your character is composed of all these, it is yourself, your personality, or to speak more plainly, it is the distinctive mark of your personality. There is some particular mark which distinguishes everyone from his neighbour, and that is what we call character.
For instance, the boy called James has about him a certain way which is not the manner of his comrades Peter or John. And this mark, or certain way, is called character.
Character consists in distinctly personal traits or qualities. There are children who are nobody in particular, and there are others who are everybody; such children have no character.
Could it be said of a lazy little boy that he is somebody? No, indeed, he is too indolent, he is not interested in anything except, to be sure, the hour of sleep, or of meals. To what shall we compare such a child? To those creatures of inferior order, neither flesh nor fish, of no particular shape, found along the seashore. What distinct marks do they show? It is hard to tell. So is that child. How are we to characterize him? What shall we say of him, to describe him? Only one thing unfortunately can be said, and that is, he has no character, there is nothing striking about him; he is “nobody” in particular.
It would, on the other hand, not be difficult to find others who are similarly without character, because they are “Master Everybody.” Such children, no doubt, are lively, active, full of spirits, even ambitious; if you were to see them for a day or two, or even for a few weeks, you might suppose you knew what they really are. But, alas, a few days longer and we find them totally changed, they change minds, habits, friends, you would hardly know them from one time to another. Here you have “Master Everybody.” Today pious, good, studious; tomorrow, unbearable, inattentive, negligent; the day after tomorrow he is all for play, the next after that all work; then once again all piety. One day he is affectionate and kind to parents and teachers, another day tired of everything, desirous only of having a good time. Why these incessant changes? I will tell you why. This child is too easily led by the example and advice of others. Master “Everybody” always does what the others do; he thinks like the others, the others are his sole rule of conduct. And among the others no all are formed alike, as there are amongst them good and bod, industrious and idle, tractable and untractable. Master “Everybody” is all this in succession, according to the influence of the momentary companion.
It is not at all necessary that this influence be protracted or very marked; at times a word suffices, a reflection, a smile, a word of advice, an invitation, a wish of some kind expressed. This poor child without character, is like the clouds of heaven, every instant changing form, color, velocity and destination, according to the vagaries of the blowing wind. Here, then, is the portrait of Master “Everybody” against that of Master “Nobody.”
You will all agree that it would not be flattering to resemble either of these two. One is as bad as the other. Neither of these unfortunate weaklings deserve anything but pity. If you realize this thoroughly you will not care to resemble either of them for anything in the world.
Dear children, you must strive with all your might to acquire character. You will acquire it, if, in the first place, you strive to overcome laziness, and to cultivate by work the talents which God has bestowed upon you. Then there will be a chance for you to become “some one.” However, this will not suffice. You must also seek a deep and solid religious knowledge.
To possess character, we must have convictions and principles, we must be convinced of what our duties are and of the reason for fulfilling these duties.
Why is it that the child mentioned in the second place is always led by others? Because he has no “ideas” of his own on the matters before him, he is not convinced. If, for instance, he were thoroughly convinced, that he was in duty bound to love and serve God, would he let himself be easily moved by the ridicule of his companions who tease him about his piety? On the contrary, he would feel sorry for a companion who could be ignorant enough, or silly enough, not to know or understand, how good, sweet, beneficial and necessary it is to draw near to God, by prayer and devotional exercises.
You must, therefore, be convinced of your duties, and you will become so only by getting instructed in the truths of religion. Religion will teach you the things that are true and certain, and if you believe them with your whole heart and with a strong faith, you will surely become men and women of character.
There is one more condition, however—the last and most important—you must ask God for His grace. It is not enough to know your duty. You must also have the courage to fulfil it. Only the grace of God can give us this courage. Work, faith and prayer, will build up in us a true Christlike character, such as will make good and honorable men and women out of you, beloved by God and by men.