As most readers of my books, web articles, and other writings already know, I focus a lot on matters of character, especially certain personality types best defined by their various disturbances of character. But why all the fuss, you might ask? Isn’t it rather pointless to focus so much attention on an issue that’s been around since humankind started roaming the earth? The answer is simple: Now, more than ever, character matters because the Western world is in the midst of a character crisis the likes of which has not been seen in modern times, and the ramifications of it significantly effect every aspect of our lives.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in rocket science (or psychology, for that matter) to know that there is something particularly menacing going on in our culture. People like Bernie Madoff (he’s by no means the only such person) defraud thousands and rip-off millions, not only with no compunction but with the audacity to lay blame on the “greedy” individuals who bought into his scheme. Then there’s a guy like Scott Peterson who feigns sadness over disappearance of his wife while all the time harboring no real remorse for dumping her body and that of the unborn child within her in the sea simply to pursue an affair. Still yet, there’s the likes of Charlie Sheen, who despite all the awareness in the world about the dangers of substance use, and despite the good fortune of having a hit show that made him millions, placed everything he claimed to value at risk to lead a life of wild abandon and proudly proclaimed himself above the need to bow to anyone or anything. It appears quite obvious: something is very seriously wrong here.
I’m sure most folks can readily identify the many explanations sociologists have given over the years for the social ills that plague us. Once it was simply accepted as gospel that poverty was at the root of crime and inner city decay. And almost everyone has heard the theory that persons who abuse and violate the rights of others must have been the victims of abuse and neglect as youngsters. And while there’s no denying the ill effects of poverty, injustice, abuse, and neglect, it’s now become clear that our once blindly accepted theories can’t explain the actions of Madoff, Peterson, and so…so many others!
What we’re slowly coming to appreciate (and which I’ve been beating a drum about ever since my first book, In Sheep’s Clothing, and continue to do in my latest book, Character Disturbance) is that developing character is a very delicate social process that requires time, energy, a strong family unit, and powerful community support structures. As I say in my books, none of us are born civilized. We are noble little savages from the start. We have evolved, but we still retain much of our “reptilian” brains. We have to be taught how to behave responsibly and we have to be ever so rightly guided in order to develop sufficient human empathy and conscience to function in a socially conscientious way. But strong, enduring families are rare and the social institutions that traditionally reinforced the most fundamental aspects of character development have eroded. We now have freedom in greater abundance than ever before. But we also have fewer clear guidelines about how to function with integrity. And individuals who have not done too well in shaping their personalities do not face a social climate that reveres and rewards good character, disapproves of irresponsibility, and readily and appropriately sanctions wrongful conduct.
It’s hard to think of a social problem we have that isn’t in some way directly connected to the character crisis. The U.S. financial system and economy nearly collapsed because of a few really rotten scoundrels, and people who have worked all their lives and paid all their dues are on the verge of not seeing their benefits because so many have abused and exploited the necessary support systems. And there’s no benefit to pointing fingers, because there’s so much blame to go around.
This post isn’t really meant to be a social commentary. It’s more a continuation of the drum beat. It’s time we faced the true source of so many of our ills. It’s time to take a very long, hard, and serious look at the social structures that need to be strengthened to provide an atmosphere in which children can grow – not into entitled, unbridled, unscrupulous personalities – but into principled, conscientious, responsible characters. Free societies are totally dependent upon character. It’s what makes it all work. And that’s why – as I beat the drum one more time – character matters so much.