If you were asked to spontaneously run a race or obstacle course without any warning at all, then your achievement in the race would reflect whatever athletic ability or fitness you had cultivated up until that point. You might be able to push yourself a little but ordinarily speaking your attainment in that obstacle course would reflect your level of fitness that you had cultivated. However if you were an athlete, even if you were asked to spontaneously run a course, then the likelihood is that because of the general level of fitness that you cultivate on a daily basis, you would easily be able to run that race, and to do it in a fast time.
This is what it is like with character. When we are dealing/interacting with people, then the way we behave generally reflects the basic character that we have cultivated up until that point. We might be able to push ourselves a little to be nicer/kinder than normal, but ordinarily speaking the way we behave – or our “behaviour performance” reflects the effort – or lack of – that we have made regarding our character.
As with an athletic race, so with our character, that at any time anyone could decide that they want to start getting fit/working on their character. That is great, but even with all the determination in the world, no-one becomes a champion overnight in anything. It takes effort, it takes determination, it takes persevering and pushing forward for weeks and even months and years before someone can be said to be outstanding.
Here’s the thing – when you are interacting with people, just like when you are watching people run a race, it becomes really easy to see just what effort they have invested into their character. Most people have invested absolutely no effort whatsoever with their character, just as they have invested zero effort athletically. That is, I think most people can demonstrate a sufficient level of niceness to pass social norms, but just scratch just a little bit beneath the surface…
I say investment because I don’t want to rely on people’s strengths. Perhaps we all have natural strengths in different areas because of our respective parents and upbringing. And yet for someone to consistently excel in character across a broad spectrum of issues – that takes deliberate, focused effort and concentration – in other words, an investment. That is, someone who is unfailingly kind, tells the truth always, respects other people’s time by being punctual, always does the right thing because it is right.
This is part of what I am looking for regarding a husband. I am not looking just for someone who naturally happens to be strong in X, in terms of character. Looking at the way he generally behaves, I am looking and hoping for someone who has invested effort into his character – I am looking to see the amount of effort that someone has been investing over the last few years. That is what makes this two year thing really something – I am not looking for the niceness that someone can essentially “paint on” over the course of two years. Rather I am looking to see the effort that this man has consistently been making in this area over a large expanse of time. So I am not looking for a golden veneer “painted on” over dross, but rather looking beyond the surface to hopefully see solid golden character beneath. Because believe me, it shows. It is quite funny, that many people think that they can feign amazing character.
My own character failings or lapsed fitness
I have recently become so emphatically aware of my own character failings in many areas. Now I have put in a lot of effort into my character over the years – an immense amount of effort. And yet as with athletic training, so with character, we have to maintain our level of “fitness” by continuing to train hard, and push ourselves. Any athlete who wants to remain at the top of their game cannot just sit back and say “Well I trained hard a week ago…a month ago…a year ago.” You have to keep maintaining it, you have to keep up the effort, you have to keep striving. Athletics is a battle! If you don’t keep up the effort, and keep pushing yourself, then a week…month…year later, you might still be able to get around that race course, possibly still (a lot?) faster than other people…but you will be huffing and puffing a lot more than you were before. And yet this can be what it is like with character. It is possible to lapse in character fitness. Anyone who really wants to excel in character must surely know that – so another thing to look for in a husband is not only someone who has been investing a lot over the last few years, but who also continues to strive forward, learning things, learning from his mistakes, and this is also who I aim to be.