The A File: Character
I WROTE THIS A FEW YEARS AGO TO A FRIEND.
I am thinking this morning about character. Specifically I am thinking about Burt's character and Mary’s character…or lack thereof. [BURT WAS MY LACY'S BOYFRIEND, I FORGET WHO MARY WAS]. I am also thinking of my own character and the enormous character of all my closest friends.
So what is character?
One dictionary defines character as "the complex of mental and ethical traits marking a person." In another dictionary, character is said to be "the stable and distinctive qualities built into an individual's life which determine his or her response regardless of circumstances."
Our Character Is Who We Are
Abraham Lincoln said, "Reputation is the shadow. Character is the tree." Our character is not just what we try to display for others to see, it is who we are even when no one is watching. Good character is doing the right thing because it is right thing to do.
Clearly, Burt wounded you deeply, Lacy. I know only what you have told me about him; my personal impression of him from our only conversation was not entirely positive, but it wasn’t particularly negative either. Frankly, I would not base my evaluation of his character on the nature of his relationship with you, but on what you have told me about his professional conduct, which appears to be not professional at all and that indicates to me a character deficiency.
Mary, too, is displaying an appalling lack of character in her behavior. But I wonder, does her behavior indicate a lack of character or is it fueled by alcoholism and desperation? Is Ray’s behavior fueled by external influences or is he a simply a man of low character?
There is a difference, you know. Alcoholism and addiction are not moral failures, they are illnesses. A.A. claims that alcoholism is a disease. I don’t believe that, but I do believe it is a spiritual sickness. I gather that Ray is not an addict. So, unless he suffers from untreated bipolar disorder or is otherwise mentally impaired he has no excuse. Mary is an addict, and while that does not excuse her behavior, it is possible that if she were to recover from her addiction eventually she could also recover her character.
I was raised by a father of the highest possible character. I am quite sure I will never meet anyone in my life of exceeding his character. Some of that character, I hope, rubbed off on me. But there was a long period of time, ending about five years ago, during which no one would have believed that I had any character at all. That was the addiction. That was not “who I am.”
My father is the standard by which I evaluate (not judge) the character of everyone I meet. I have made many mistakes along the way. I have naively overestimated peoples’ characters, which I have documented in “Lunatic Magnet.” That has led to several disturbing conflicts in the last two and half years since I started writing full time, because ultimately the character of these lunatics, and the purity of their vision, did not match my own. My attempts to draw them into my own vision made them uncomfortable and they retaliated in destructive ways. I’m learning. my present group of closest friends, advisers, and associates is evidence of that. You are part of that group.
I place each of these individuals in my pantheon of most-admired people just below my father. Each one possesses character way beyond the norm and I would trust each one with my life and the fortune I intend to have one day. That I have been blessed to attract such amazing individuals into my life somehow is, for me, confirmation that along with all the mistakes and missteps I have made, I must also be doing something right.
My thought for you this morning, Lacy, is that as long as you maintain your own impeccable character these people who have violated your boundaries and trust and are presently causing you grief will recede into the fabric of your past and will ultimately serve to build your character and make you stronger.
So hang in there baby. I believe in you. And Happy Valentine’s Day.