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Character: A Definition

Character is a set of dispositions to be and do good, engraved on a person in multiple ways: by strong family attachments that teach what to love and how to love well; by regular habits that ingrain small acts of self-­control; by teachers and role models who personify excellence and inspire emulation; by religious instruction on honest, courageous, and compassionate living; through institutions that establish standards for good conduct, and mentors who inculcate concrete ways to execute it; by the reading of great literature; through experiences of struggle, positions of responsibility, and the blessings and demands of enduring commitments. The habits of character grow best in contexts that are nurturing, orderly and predictable, with clear yet grace-infused feedback mechanisms, and an inspiring ideal in view.

Character is shaped on multiple levels, but the person of character has integrated those levels into a whole personality. The person of character can be counted upon to be reliable and predictable over time. He or she is stable in the face of moral temptation, and chooses right even when it is painful. A person of character responds authentically to value; her loves are ordered. To have character is to refuse anything that satisfies one’s lower loves. It is to put aside our natural tendency toward pride and selfishness, and to seek instead the good of others, of a community, of country.