Why we are so confused about character formation.

Why we are so confused about character formation.

Character is at the center of so many of the conversations we have today. Today, let me get a little nerdy with you. Character used to be about who a man was. But then we tried to figure out how to educate it. The enlightenment was in love with education, and thus was born the character education. The theory was that if we could simply get people the right information, then the right actions would follow.

This is a similar approach to fundamentalist religion. And before I lose you, consider that fundamentalism has a lot of good. No one likes fundamentalists until the rules that are broken go against them. Then we want the full extent of the law to be brought to bear. Fundamentals are the basics, and every sport has them, every profession has them and every society has them. Fundamentalists have chosen a list of fundamentals. The challenge is that when we chose a list of fundamental behaviors as the basis for guiding decisions making, those become Canon, the 10 Commandments of your society. And we all know how well that worked. The behavior paradigms simply gave a framework for letting people know what they were doing wrong, and to remind them of how messed up they were.

But what if character is who you are, and you are not measured by a single act but by the sum total of the acts in your life? This is more difficult, because it requires that you be known, and completely known. Your actions, but also your motivations are now at play. Does anyone think that Facebook is altruistically motivated to do good? But what are commonly called Aristotelean virtues, redeployed by St. Thomas Aquinus in the western world, and some might argue never lost in other areas, these virtues argue for not simply the presence of virtues in the life of a person, but the pursuit of a virtuous life. Who I am today is not who I will be tomorrow. I need an honest assessment of both where I am, where I want to go, and the journey required to get there. The life cartography. Because the virtuous life is one worth living, and one that can’t be cancelled by one wrong action, or even a series of wrong actions. Neither are they covered over by a series of redemptive acts to try and balance the scales. Rather, the virtuous life is one undertaken by John Newton, who started out as a slaver and ended up writing Amazing Grace. He demonstrated no virtue, and was conflicted as he moved towards his virtuous life. Measured at any given point along his continuum, we might judge him very differently than the man be eventually became.

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