Character: Our Psychological Immune System
In many ways, character is like a psychological immune system. Our physical immune systems contain elements that marshall defenses against the world’s invasive, toxic influences. And so it is with good character. Folks of mature, solid character have developed the internal skills and other characteristics that reduce their vulnerablity to potentially damaging outside influences.
Life is full of threats to our emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Some are easy to see. Others are more surreptitious. We become spiritually unhealthy when we allow harmful outside forces to invade and corrupt our inner space. Similarly, we become emotionally and psychologically unhealthy when those forces dictate our behavior. It helps to have internal resources that confer a degree of immunity to this invasion. And that’s precisely what character is all about.
I talk about these issues in the latest Character Matters podcast. And I frame the immunity issue within the context of the 10 Commandments of Character. I first introduced these time-tested principles for healthy charcter in my book Character Disturbance. And I’ve been talking particularly about the 5th Commandment, which has to do with gaining mastery over our appetites and aversions.
We start out in life at the mercy of forces beyond our control and utterly dependent upon the care afforded us by others. Maturation is all about developing the skills necessary to move beyond dependency to true independence. And to be healthily independent we have to possess the skills to properly self-regulate. These skills have to be learned. We have to learn to regulate our emotions. We have to overcome our fears and insecurities. And we have to gain mastery over our appetites and aversions.
In our character-impaired times, too many remain utterly dependent on external sources of control for too long. We need diet and nutrition coaches to help us eat right. We need pills to keep our mood stable and our impulses under control. In short, we depend on all sorts of things to control us that we were once expected to do on our own. And the reason more was expected of us is that we were taught the skills necessary to be our own best guides. Equipped with a mature conscience and having internalized the essentials of discipline, we didn’t need others or various outside entities to manage or take care of us. We could take care of and manage ourselves.
Character’s Ultimate Value
There’s practical value to learning the skills of effective self-management. But the bigger value lies in the greater capacity to love. Love is not a sentiment. Nor is it pure desire or attraction. Rather, it’s a behavior, and a difficult one at that. It’s wanting and willing only well for a person. And the first person we need to learn to love properly is ourself.
If we don’t know how to love ourselves properly, we can’t possibly know how to love another well. Moreover, as is the case with just about any other human concern, the secret to it all lies where it always has: character. Character is our psychological immune system. It gives us the strenth and skills to navigate our lives and relationships genuinely lovingly. It frees us from unhealthy dependency and the temptations of self and other abuse. That’s just a few of the reasons it matters so much, perhaps now more than ever.