Character matters. It always has. And if there were ever a time when character really needs to be mindfully nurtured, it’s now – in our age of permissiveness, entitlement and moral relativism. In my book Character Disturbance, I stress how important it is to nurture character from early on. None of us is born civilized. Socialization and sound character development are part of an ongoing process (for more on this see: Socialization is a Process) that takes a lot of conscientious attention from the beginning. And this process doesn’t end when we move from childhood to adulthood. Becoming who we’re truly capable of being is a lifelong endeavor. Moreover, the same lessons we need to learn as children to become adults of some integrity are the lessons we need to even more deeply embrace and master as we mature in order to become the best version of ourselves.
It was once widely believed that we all naturally move toward positive growth unless we experience trauma of some sort that stunts our character development. But we’re coming to realize how wrong-sighted this view is. We’ve also learned that what doesn’t happen in the way of learning important life lessons is just as crucial to our character development as the tragic events that might beset us. So if we’re to become better people and make the world a better place in the process, it’s crucial that we master those lessons.
I’ve specialized in the treatment of personality and character disturbance for most of my professional life, and early in my career, many of my clients were troubled children and adolescents who hadn’t yet learned the all important lessons I eventually came to call the “10 commandments” of sound character development (for more on this topic see pp. 140-155 in Character Disturbance and the series of articles beginning with Building Character: The 10 Commandments of Socialization). For a long time, I’ve felt there was a lot more to be said about these commandments, their importance, and what my clients have taught me over the years is necessary to learn them. The co-author of my most recent book How Did We End Up Here?, Dr. Kathryn Armistead felt that way, too and has helped me fashion what we both regard as one of the most necessary books of our times. Tentatively titled The Ten Commandments of Character: How to Build a Significant Life, the book will provide an in-depth look at how heeding and mastering 10 essential life lessons paves the way for personal integrity. It’s packed with practical guidance illustrated through case examples and supported by years of professional experience and all the latest empirical research. The book is scheduled for release in the next few months. And in the upcoming series of articles, I’ll be providing a glimpse into its contents.
For years, forces within the mental health field tried to convince us that most emotional and psychological problems had nothing whatsoever to do with character. Some insisted it was all about environment. Others insisted it was all about our biochemistry and the “imbalances” that can occur through no fault of our own. Still others insisted it was all about “addictions” any of us could easily succumb to and retain for the rest of our lives but could learn to “recover” from with ongoing support. And while there’s little doubt that in some cases any of these factors can play a major if not the dominant role, we’ve been forced to admit of late that many of the problems folks have today are indeed a product of their inadequate character development (as anyone who’s been in a relationship with a personality or character-disordered person has unfortunately had to learn the hard way). Researchers have come to echo this sentiment, including some very prominent ones (e.g., M.E. Seligman and C. Peterson) whom I quote in the opening pages of Character Disturbance:
After a detour through the hedonism of the 1960s, the narcissism of the 1970s, the materialism of the 1980s, and the apathy of the 1990s, most every today seems to believe that character is important after all and that the United States is facing a character crisis on many fronts from the playground to the classroom to the sports arena to the Hollywood screen to business corporations to politics.
I consider the upcoming offering with Dr. Armistead to be my most important work to date and I hope the preview I’ll be offering of it over the next few weeks will whet some appetites for this experience-inspired and research-supported guide to becoming a better person and building a better world.
This Sunday evening’s edition of Character Matters (7 pm EDT, 4 pm PDT) will be a rebroadcast of an earlier program, so no phone calls can be taken.
I would be remiss if I didn’t again express my profound gratitude to all those who have already purchased and are recommending How Did We End Up Here? (available now in Kindle format as well as paperback) to friends and acquaintances. I’ve been blessed to have all my work enjoy unprecedented positive word of mouth, which is not only edifying and validating but also the single best form of advertising. That’s why you don’t see any advertising on this blog or see any flashy, wide-scale promotion of my work. Your goodwill and support are what’s given my written works the longevity and popularity few authors enjoy, and I am deeply grateful.