February 8, 2006
Adversity doesn't build character, it
What builds character?
Disappointment and failure are atop the list of character-builders.
A wise executive observed that he learned more during
one nearly disastrous year than during five years of
relatively uncomplicated success. "Adversity does
not build character," goes the adage. "It reveals
Such observations suggest that problems are little more
than occasions to rejoice, for no other reason than
the marvelous character-building learning curve such
circumstances provide. Therefore, individuals ought to welcome problems because
they confirm they are still alive and able to continue learning and growing.
But being hit by multiple hurricanes (literally or figuratively)
in rapid succession represents character-building moments
that may also present significant tests of physical
strength and emotional endurance. Responsible risk-taking,
including learning from failures, is the beginning
of character-building wisdom. Providing an appropriate
context for addressing disappointments and failures
by caring parents facilitates their children's endurance,
better enabling them to prosper in hard times.
Character is a byproduct of many stresses, and it seems
reasonable then that more challenges must be better.
This logic works, but only up to a point. When the
waters of challenge and frustration get neck high,
threatening death, relief is essential. Yes, developing
character requires enough strength and fortitude to
tread water until either the floods subside or a lifeguard
offers assistance. The waiting game with its ambiguity,
even when accompanied by hope and faith, still takes
a toll. Threatened, by a variety of challenges, humans
need time to rebuild strength and confidence.
Slowing down long enough to think and plan often turns
out to be the most efficient way, at least in the long
run, to respond. Harried lives should never be guided
by hurried decisions and actions. Character - forged in the fires of fear, uncertainty
and doubt - requires courage to risk and the willingness to learn from failure.
Character requires strength and optimism. Exhaustion
makes cowards of many. To live at the ready means taking
adequate time for rejuvenation, reflection and preparedness.
Vacations provide welcome relief, sanctuary from emergencies
- including some of the excruciating demands even of
daily routine. Those unable or unwilling to "idle their engines" risk burn out and poor decision-making, missing
golden opportunities to leverage insights that build character.
Quiet space reduces stress for some while others seek
a hideaway that provides a change of pace, whether
nearby or far from home. Even powerful engines are
allowed to cool down. Should humans operate differently?
Contingency planning increases confidence and optimism,
building character, an attribute of integrity.
Because character is the ability to carry out the resolution
long after the initial burst of enthusiasm is gone, then
disappointments and failures are stepping stones to success