People of mature character are mindful of both their decisions and their actions. They temper their urges with reason and foresight. They neither rush into action nor into judgment. Healthy characters think not only about what they’re about to do but also about the likely consequences of their choices.
We become the master of our appetites and aversions when we face and pass crucial tests of character. And the most crucial tests come with temptation, adversity, and power. These tests come early on and often throughout life. We build strength of character by facing and passing life’s little tests in our early years. This prepares us to face the bigger tests later on.
There are several qualities a person must acquire to forge a strong, healthy character. Patience, endurance, and perseverance are among them. But before anyone can acquire these virtues, he or she must first cultivate both the ability and the will to bear discomfort.
The “fifth commandment” of sound character is about mastering our appetites and aversions. But we can’t possibly become the master of our appetites unless we first learn to delay gratification. And we can’t be masters of our aversions unless we’ve cultivated the will to bear discomfort.
Our gluttony isn’t just about food. From sex to money, we want more of just about everything. And nothing really satisfies. Moreover, anything we can get too easily and do too often can become an “addiction.”
To be of good character, we must become master of our appetites and aversions, our likes and dislikes. We must become master of instead of slave to what has been commonly called the “pleasure principle.”
It’s not enough to just to be willing to admit the truth. Many folks will do that, especially after they’ve been caught lying. Rather, it’s more important to truly revere the truth. A solid character knows the value of the truth – its power to heal, to empower, and to free. But it’s always a choice to embrace the truth – a choice truly decent characters freely make.
Some habitual liars are called “pathological” liars because they lie for no apparent reason. They lie even at times when the truth would suffice or serve them better. Some have regarded such senseless lying as a kind of mental illness or even insanity. But these liars are not insane. Rather, they belong to a group of the most severely disordered characters among us (i.e. psychopaths, sociopaths, etc.), and they’re perfectly rational. There’s a “method” to their apparent “madness.”
There’s great power in truth. It can indeed set us free – even from our most unhealthy tendencies. But first we have to be of a mind to reckon with it. And then, we have to be willing to accept it.
At a primal level, we are all animals with basic desires, instincts, urges, and raw emotions. And these primal characteristics of ours are not inherently evil. They’re a part of who we are. But because we are more than mere animals, we’re capable of functioning on a much higher plane. Before we can elevate ourselves to that plane, however, we must first “own” and then reckon with our baser inclinations. Of course, this is neither appealing nor easy. In fact the burden of self-reckoning is a “cross” we’re all called to carry if we’re to fashion a better world. Failing to accept this burden and instead lying about the flaws within ourselves that we need to reckon with is the ultimate evil.