On Charm and Character Development

Saw this article title from BBC, “The Tricks to Make Yourself Effortlessly Charming” To be clear, I’m not against people being charming. In fact, if somehow there really are simple lifehacks that enable you to become charming, I suggest you take them right away. Charming is infinitely better than borish, draining, and toxic.

But I’m intrigued by the idea of an ‘effortless’ transformation into charm. Is ‘effortless’ the thing that is meant to attract us to this pursuit?

Most character development takes discipline and work, because for us to become better, there are obstacles within ourselves that have to be overcome. For instance, what if the reason I am boorish is because I love to talk about myself and I’m generally not interested in other people. Then there is a vice standing in my way between me and charm. That vice being self-centeredness. Charm will be impossible until that vice is overcome.

That vice cannot be overcome until I discover that the new virtue is more beautiful than the selfishness I presently have and currently enjoy. And even once it does become beautiful to me, it will require work re-wire my habits of thought and body towards that new virtue.

And the hang-up beneath that is the vice of laziness that sees work and discipline as inherently ugly and unattractive. This too must be overcome.

All this to say, the idea of effortless transformation sounds great to us. But it tends not to be how true transformation happens. And for that reason there is a deeper work in the soul that has to be done before we can do the work to be charming or whatever else.

The Witnessing Power of Kindness

“There was an aged woman who credited her salvation to George Whitefield. People doubted this because she was barely old enough to have heard this great preacher from a prior age. She replied that when she was a little girl, he had stayed at her house. “It was not any sermon that he preached,” she explained; “it was not anything that he ever said to me. It was the beautiful consistency and kindness of his daily life . . . . I said to myself, ‘If I ever have any religion, Mr. Whitefield’s God shall be my God.’ ” -Richard Phillips

Cultural Observation: Demoralized Language

“Public language has also become demoralized. Google ngrams measure word usage across media. Google scans the contents of books and publications going back decades. You can type in a word and see, over the years, which words have been used more frequently and which less frequently. Over the past few decades there has been a sharp rise in the usage of individualist words and phrases like “self” and “personalized,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself,” and a sharp decline in community words like “community,” “share,” “united,” and “common good.” The use of words having to do with economics and business has increased, while the language of morality and character building is in decline. Usage of words like “character,” “conscience,” and “virtue” all declined over the course of the twentieth century.26Usage of the word “bravery” has declined by 66 percent over the course of the twentieth century. “Gratitude” is down 49 percent. “Humbleness” is down 52 percent and “kindness” is down 56 percent.” -David Brooks, The Road to Character

Love is Character-Building

“Fortunately, love is the law of our nature. People like Ida understand that love, too, is a tool to build character. The tender character-building strategy is based on the idea that we can’t always resist our desires, but we can change and reorder our desires by focusing on our higher loves. Focus on your love for your children. Focus on your love of country. Focus on your love for the poor and downtrodden. Focus on your love of your hometown or alma mater. To sacrifice for such things is sweet. It feels good to serve your beloved. Giving becomes cheerful giving because you are so eager to see the things you love prosper and thrive.” -David Brooks The Road to Character

What’s Worse? What’s Inside Us or What’s Outside Us?

“Today, when we say that somebody is repressed, we tend to mean it as a criticism. It means they are uptight, stiff, or unaware of their true emotional selves. That’s because we live in a self-expressive culture. We tend to trust the impulses inside the self and distrust the forces outside the self that seek to push down those impulses. But in this earlier moral ecology, people tended to distrust the impulses inside the self. These impulses could be restrained, they argued, through habit.” -David Brooks, The Road to Character

Character Doesn’t Just Happen

“People who live this way believe that character is not innate or automatic. You have to build it with effort and artistry. You can’t be the good person you want to be unless you wage this campaign. You won’t even achieve enduring external success unless you build a solid moral core. If you don’t have some inner integrity, eventually your Watergate, your scandal, your betrayal, will happen. Adam I ultimately depends upon Adam II. Now, I have used the word “struggle” and “fight” in the previous passages. But it’s a mistake to think that the moral struggle against internal weakness is a struggle the way a war is a struggle or the way a boxing match is a struggle—filled with clash of arms and violence and aggression. Moral realists sometimes do hard things, like standing firm against evil and imposing intense self-discipline on their desires. But character is built not only through austerity and hardship. It is also built sweetly through love and pleasure. When you have deep friendships with good people, you copy and then absorb some of their best traits. When you love a person deeply, you want to serve them and earn their regard. When you experience great art, you widen your repertoire of emotions. Through devotion to some cause, you elevate your desires and organize your energies. Moreover, the struggle against the weaknesses in yourself is never a solitary struggle. No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason, compassion, and character are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride, greed, and self-deception. Everybody needs redemptive assistance from outside—from family, friends, ancestors, rules, traditions, institutions, exemplars, and, for believers, God. We all need people to tell us when we are wrong, to advise us on how to do right, and to encourage, support, arouse, cooperate, and inspire us along the way.” -David Brooks, The Road to Character