Chapter 8 – On Good and Bad Character
Chapter 8 – On Good and Bad Character
It is not sufficient to have character, we must have a good character. The word character has several meanings in the English language, but we shall here only make use of two of them. In the first place character is personality, and in the second it is habitual temper, also called disposition. To have a good character is to be habitually good tempered; to have a bad character is to be habitually bad tempered. It is not a rare occurrence to meet children who have a bad character—their temper is bad.
The peculiarity of a bad temper is that it will suffer no contradiction of any sort. Behold, for instance, the boy of about ten years, center of a group of playmates, he is talking excitedly; they listen, and one of them at length ventures to raise an objection; it seems the rules of their game are not precisely so as the boy claims they are. The objection at once arouses his ire, he gets red in the face, and becomes aggressive. And all this fuss over some trifling rule of baseball. This boy, by getting hot-headed over such a trifle has given proof of his bad and ugly temper.
Soon calm is restored, the tempest is over, the game is started, but in a very short while some other thing, it would perhaps be hard to tell just what, puts this bad-tempered boy again out of humor, and this time he becomes abusive, to the surprise and disgust of some of his playmates, while others who have known him some time are inclined to make fun of him; finally he quits the game and goes off to sulk by himself.
This is a case of a little boy, but I wish to point out that little girls are no less given to fits of temper than are little boys.
Our young friend goes home discontented and complaining; his mother asks him what the trouble is, but either he gives no answer at all or mumbles some unintelligible words. He is reprimanded for his rudeness, and again gets angry, he leaves the room slamming the door. At supper he does not speak; pouting and with bad grace kisses his parents good night, and when finally he has gone to bed the family breathes a sigh of relief, for that child is unbearable except when asleep.
Dear children, there are two words which may be well applied to this sort of bad temper; it is absurd and intolerable. If you wish to have these words applied to yourself, then allow yourself to be carried away by your bad temper, and you will not fail to merit one or the other, or both. You will make yourself absurd, because there is nothing so silly as those foolish fits of rage about trifles, as that mania for quarreling, that sensitiveness about the smallest trifles, it reminds one of a young puppy that barks furiously at nothing all day long. Everybody laughs at the carrying on of such a little dog, and so every one, too, laughs at the impotent and foolish fits of passion displayed by persons of bad temper.
You will, moreover, be as intolerable as you are absurd, for nothing is more unpleasant than to live with persons of an embittered or touchy disposition, even the most sincere affection can not bear it long; the person with a bad temper is shunned, he is without friends, disliked or dreaded by all.
This is the fate that awaits you, if you do not strive with all your might to control your defects of character. I think this description is well calculated to move you to serious efforts to acquire an amiable disposition. Besides, you must remember that you have not the right to be disagreeable or even intolerable—Christian charity forbids it. We are to live together as one family. We are to render mutual service, one to another, either for the good of the soul, or for that of the body. Persons, who by their ugly disposition render themselves objectionable and intolerable, exclude themselves from the great Christian family, they are an obstacle to that unity and good will which ought to prevail among the disciples of Jesus Christ, and consequently they are lacking in the Saviour’s chief precept; Love one another.
You must not think that to have a bad temper does not matter so much; on the contrary, the consequences of a bad temper are often very serious, because as we have just explained they destroy peace and cause disharmony and quarrel. You will, when you grow up, notice that whenever there is much disputing, rancor, and difference of opinion among people, or even among the members of a family, it is generally because of the bad dispositions of one or two persons who, by their exactions, their bitter words, their silly sensitiveness have upset everything and antagonized everybody.
Nor must you think that we can not help our disposition, nor claim it sufficient excuse, when you have committed a fault, to say; “How can I help it? That is my disposition.”
No; you must improve and correct your character; that is one reason why you attend Sunday-school, and learn your Catechism. At your age it can be done, and it is even easy of accomplishment. But if you wait until grown up, it is quite certain that the task will be a difficult one; but just now with God’s grace, with the guidance of your parents, and the instructions which you receive here, all the task requires is a little good will.
Start then the good work; the character of many children is like a young broncho, wild and difficult to get hold of, yet this can be accomplished if you know how to throw or lasso it like the cowboys out West, and to apply the spur if necessary. Neither lasso nor spur will injure the broncho, but on the contrary render him useful in time; he will soon become docile and easy of control, and so it is with your temper, your character. The lasso with which to subdue your disposition is your will, and the spur is mortification. Apply your firm will to the task, and mortify that foolish pride that would rebel against imagined slights and reasonable opposition, and you will soon have your temper under control and will gain the reputation of having a good and amiable character.