Character Formation in the Context of Life’s Circumstances

by Percival J. Meris on September 13, 2010

character formation

Character Formation Photo Courtesy of Marlon Duba

CHARACTER FORMATION: THAT IS WHAT WE ARE HERE ON EARTH FOR. We are here PRIMARILY to use life’s circumstances to make a masterpiece of ourselves. Nothing else.

To serve our fellow human beings in fulfillment of our personal mission is secondary. We are to help them directly or indirectly through our God-given talents make masterpieces of themselves, too.

Good Character Formation Is Soul Development at Its Best

Spirit is what we are. Soul is spirit in action.

The habitual actions of the soul, executed by the mind, will, and emotion (its psychological components) and performed by the body (its physical instrument), produce character. By choosing our actions, we determine the quality of our character: good or bad, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly.

Good, strong, and beautiful character is what we aim to make of our soul.

Character Formation in the School Called LIFE

In life we learn lessons, and consequently form our character. For as long as we live, we do not stop receiving lessons. When we fail to learn, we repeat the lesson. When we learn, we graduate to a higher level of learning.

Should death overtake us, we assume another life through rebirth to continue the learning from where we left off. This cycle of birth and rebirth goes on until we have completed the entire course of learning.

Contexts of Character Formation

Life on earth provides us contexts for character formation in the forms of temptations and difficulties.

Character Formation in the Context of Temptations

Life presents occasions of temptations as contexts for character formation. We cannot learn patience, if there were no occasions for anger. We cannot learn courage, if there were no occasions for fear. We cannot learn love, if there were no occasions for selfishness.

Our natural tendency is to give in to these temptations for selfish gain, pleasure, or convenience and comfort, and do what is wrong. Then, we experience unpleasant consequences of our wrongdoing.

When we decide to quit the wrongdoing to avoid its consequences, learning takes place. Our character has made progress toward good formation. Good character formation seeks to elevate us from the lowly brute level to a sublime plane of saintly existence.

Therefore, temptations are good. For, without them there would be no opportunities to transcend our primitive nature.

Character Formation in the Context of Life’s Difficulties

Just as our body is strengthened with tough exercises, our character is strengthened by life’s difficulties.

No Need to Suffer Life’s Difficulties

Pain. Call it by any name: trials, tribulations, hardships, difficulties, problems, challenges. But not suffering.

Suffering is a state of mind. It is not synonymous, nor in any way related to, the concept of pain. Pain is a physical sensation, triggered by the brain’s response to an external stimulus. Suffering is an emotional experience, brought about by the mind’s reaction to pain.

Suffering is psychological resistance to pain. When we resist, the pain intensifies. When we yield like a reed that bends with the wind, we minimize its impact.

Sacrifice Makes Life’s Difficulties Sacred

When motivated by some higher values we endure pain with acceptance, it ceases to be suffering. It becomes sacrifice. When we accept pain in sacrifice, we make pain sacred (sacrifice – from the Latin words “sacer” [sacred] and “facere” [to make]).

Sacred pain is our vehicle to our higher value – which in this case is character formation.

Steps to Character Formation

Character formation involves the soul components of intellect, will, and emotions.

  1. Know what is right to do. What is right is whatever helps us achieve our goals without hurting ourselves or being unjust to others.
  2. Develop strength of the will. A strong will power enables us to choose doing what is right, despite the onslaughts of temptations and difficulties.
  3. Turn emotions into your ally. To be an ally, our emotions must be in conformity with our will. Will and emotion provide a powerful synergy for the execution of our actions.

Key to Character Formation: Development of Will Power

Since character is the result of habitual actions, executed primarily by the will, the development of will power is key to character formation. Temptations and difficulties present themselves as opportunities for will power to train its muscles when it chooses to do what is right, despite their pressures.

Let Our Character Be Strong as an Oak and Beautiful as a Flower in Springtime

Will power is strong when it executes acts that emanate from deliberate choice; weak when it does ones that spring from the dictates of emotions. A strong will power is the backbone of a strong character.

When the intellect dwells on truth and the will chooses the good, both the truth and the good exalts character with beauty.

Parting Words on Character Formation

Many people go on through life without knowing why they ever lived at all. They encounter a lot of difficulties and temptations without understanding why. And so, they complain.

They erroneously think that “happiness”, pleasure, comfort, and convenience are all what they should strive for while alive. Without true understanding of their life purpose, they are not really happy.

Let’s not waste our opportunities on earth. Do what we came here for: build a character that is strong and beautiful. Remember, we are not our body. We are spirit – soul – character. Be strong. Be beautiful. That is character formation at its finest.


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