Beginning in the late 70’s and continuing for most of the 80’s, there was a push among professionals closely aligned with the “medical model” to cast most emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems as the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Advancing this perspective did a lot to remove the “stigma” often associated with mental disorders, some of which had been unwarrantedly viewed merely as manifestations of weak or poor character. But unfortunately, despite the great strides made in the treatment of certain brain diseases and the many other benefits the medical model has brought to mental health care, as is often the case, we went too far in discounting the importance of character and its role in both promoting and maintaining sound emotional and behavioral health.
Character’s importance in the public’s eye hasn’t been eroded solely because of the dominance of the medical model. Many aspects of our culture have unfortunately not only “enabled” poor character development but also fostered – even rewarded – many forms of character disturbance. In an age of moral relativism, permissiveness, and especially, “entitlement,” it’s hard for folks to grow up feeling grateful, a part of something bigger, and, therefore, duty-bound to not only make something honorable of themselves but also to make a contribution to the greater good worthy of both self-respect and the respect of others. Ours is an indulgent culture in which we don’t seem to care so much that we have allowed ourselves to dysfunction. And we’re far too tolerant and accommodating of the dysfunction of others. What’s worse, the medical and mental health establishment has many of us thinking that when we do dysfunction, a pill is sufficient to make things better.
I wrote my books Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, and The Judas Syndrome, created this blog, and began my UCY.TV program Character Matters because my experience has taught me that character is like a psychological immune system of sorts (For more on this see: Character as a Psychological Immune System). Stressful things happen to all of us. But when you have strength and solidity of character, you can more readily summon the internal resources to weather the storm. And when sound guiding principles lie at the heart of your character, many times the slings and arrows of life only further develop and strengthen your character.
All the readers of this blog know what a nightmare it can be to have to deal with or be in a relationship with a person of disturbed or disordered character. And perhaps there’s never been a time in our history where character (and the “twisted thinking” that typically accompanies character disturbance) has mattered as much (For a provocative illustration of this reality see: Radical Ideologies: Deadly Ways of Thinking). So, for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I’m making this resolution for the coming year: I’ll be doing all I can to help “make character cool again.” I plan to not only talk about it but also to put as positive as possible a “spin” on the concept of character development so that it once again becomes both fashionable to focus on and encourage it and commonplace to recognize and reward it. I’m going to do that in as many of my written (including some new newspaper columns and Huffington Post contributions) and spoken professional enterprises (including some new “webinars” and additional YouTube videos) as possible. And I invite all of you who believe in and follow my work: parents, teachers, students, managers etc. to partner with me in this campaign. Let’s all resolve to reverse the damage done by so many years of relativism and entitlement and to strengthen the institutions capable of addressing our most pressing problem. Whether or not we choose to ignore or discount the fact, character always has and always will matter. It matters in every aspect of our lives, from our relationships, to our work endeavors, to our civic duties. So let’s do our best to make it “cool” to talk about, focus on, and especially promote character once again. Passing more laws and imposing more rules and regulations won’t fix out character problem (Disturbed characters don’t pay any attention to them anyway!), and doing so only burdens decent folks and impinges on our freedoms. Nor can we solve the problem by drugging our populace any more than it already is. The medicine our ailing society (as well as the all-to-many dysfunctional characters within it) really needs is a healthy dose of character. And that means that we have to focus like a laser beam on its importance, do our best to cultivate in ourselves, and routinely expect and insist upon it in others. When we hold ourselves and each another accountable again, make it “cool” to care and unattractive to self-serve and exploit, this age of narcissism will come to an end, and our future will be bright indeed.
Happy New Year!