They Hit Below the Belt and You Just Can't Go There

Character helps you hold on.

Posted Jul 10, 2019

by Chloe Barron
Source: by Chloe Barron

People with good character who have to live with or work with those who lack conscience or consideration, or have more than a smidgen of arrogance, can really suffer. You can't really discuss the problem in a way that will solve it, because such persons have trouble seeing their part — or if they do see it, they lack the desire to change. Good character is sort of a disadvantage, in the sense that your moral identity will not allow you to fight dirty: They hit below the belt and you just can't go there. I like to think that virtue is its own reward, or that character helps you rise. I also like to think that if you have enough self-awareness and support, you can find the strength to keep going if you have to, or muster the wherewithal to get out. In a given situation, sometimes good character elevates you and sometimes it does not, but overall, a strong sense of self and character is good for emotional health, holding on, and leading a satisfying life.

Somerset Maugham wrote that when choosing friends, choose character over personality. Research in positive psychology has shown that life satisfaction is more likely when you identify your character strengths and craft your life accordingly, to the best of your ability. How do you know who has good character when it comes to choosing a friend, partner, employee, or boss? People can have superego lacunae, meaning they may be underhanded in one situation and kindly in another. Dr. Christian Miller, who wrote The Character Gap, said that it is the little things, like picking up papers to help the person that dropped them more than just a couple of times, that tell you what someone is about: How do they behave when no one is looking? 

Recently, I came to learn about Dr. Vivien Thomas, a beloved educator and creator and wrote about him here. (The piece was awarded the Grand Prize by the Hektoen International Journal of Humanities.) This man endured ongoing assault, devaluation, discrimination, and everyday egregiousness but persevered. Call it character, or call it a calling, but he made some of the most magnificent contributions to medicine, ever. People tell me they loved learning about him and that they are going to make their kids watch the movie about his life.

Bottom line: When you are about something higher, it can help you as well as a lot of other people. Intentionally creating a cognitive and psychological distance, between you and the ones who would take you down, can be done. Adhering to internal cues and values consciously can help. Character can even make you happier.

Learn more about the relationship between character and well-being here