Character Commandments Review
I’ve been discussing the 10 “commandments” of sound character development. Heeding and mastering these directives is key to becoming psychologically healthy and socially responsible. I’ve discussed the importance of overcoming our inherent egocentricity. This lets us and come to a sense of our true place in a much bigger reality. And we’ve addressed the importance of being mindful of the impact we make on others and the world around us. We’ve looked at guarding against a sense of entitlement by cultivating gratitude. We need a balanced sense of self-worth. We must be master of our appetites. And it’s imperative we be honest in our reckonings with ourselves and others.
The above-mentioned imperatives are all important to be sure. But it’s hard to think of any problem in human relations that doesn’t stem from a failure to adequately discipline one of our strongest instincts: aggression. Freud had it right. Our untamed sexual and aggressive instincts are at the root of many of our relationship problems. So, it behooves us to gain mastery over them. And fighting rightly and fairly is particularly key to good character.
Human Nature and Aggression
People have always done a lot more fighting in their daily lives than they like to admit. In the arena of human relations, if we’re not making some kind of love, we’re generally making some kind of war. Our instinct to aggress is a close cousin of our survival instinct. We go after the things we think we need to survive and prosper. Now, just how we go about this daily fight largely defines our character. Fighting for what we need but with principle and respect and concern for others transforms aggressive behavior into assertive behavior. Assertive folks fight hard for their own needs but with care not to injure others or trample their rights and needs. And assertively striving to improve a bad situation is fighting constructively as opposed to destructively.
The 8th “Commandment” of sound character is all about mastering our aggressive instincts. It’s one of the principal commandments the disturbed and disordered characters among us have failed to heed. And you have to reflect very long on the nature of the conflicts that rage around the world or even in our homes and workplaces to know that people don’t always take the constructive assertive as opposed to the aggressive and destructive path.
Fighting Rightly – The Eighth Commandment
Here then is the Eighth Commandment of sound character development:
Neither your tendency to anger nor your instinct to aggress is inherently evil. (Although wrath is a “deadly sin.”) Anger is nature’s way of prompting you to take action to remedy a bad situation. You have the right to look out for your welfare. But you also have an obligation to consider the welfare of others. And it behooves you to be unnerved by certain circumstances. Some things in life really do have to be fought for. But when you do fight, fight fairly and with principle. Above all, fight constructively and for a truly just cause.
Do not strive to simply gain advantage over others. And take care not to needlessly injure. Expend your aggressive energy in a manner that builds as opposed to destroys. Respect the rights, needs, and boundaries of those with whom you struggle. Appreciate also when it’s in yours and everyone’s best interest to back-down, back-off, concede, or even capitulate. Managing your aggressive urges thoughtfully and effectively is the task of a lifetime. Yet it is a task that when well-done — perhaps more than any other task you face in life — defines your character.
Character and Aggression
I’ve counseled many individuals over the years. Some made their lives a shipwreck because they never gained mastery over their aggressive tendencies. While a few had longstanding “anger issues,” others did not. Remember, anger is not necessarily the precipitant of aggression. Sometimes, aggression is born simply of desire. And some folks simply never learned how to moderate their aggressive pursuit of what they wanted. They ended up running over others and doing great damage in the process. Some were overt aggressors. Others were more covert, slyly fighting or manipulating, to get their way. Both kinds of fighters brought untold pain into their relationships. For these individuals, acquiring the controls necessary to fight rightly was the task of a lifetime.
I’ll be having lots more to say on this very important “commandment” in the coming weeks.
Sunday Night Update
Once again, Character Matters on Sunday, Nov 13, 2016 will be a rebroadcast of an earlier program. But we’ll be back live Nov 20. So if you want to join the conversation, call in at (718) 717-8296.
Look for information soon on the coming release of my new book:
The Ten Commandments of Character: How to Lead a Significant Life
And for all those toxic relationship survivors looking to navigate their way through our character disordered world, Dr. Armistead and I offer:
Many thanks to those positively reviewing and recommending our book. Your goodwill is helping to make it another bestseller.
The Brazilian (Portuguese language) edition of In Sheep’s Clothing was released last week. It’s a wonderful addition to the many other versions of this international bestseller.