We all know what it is. We’ve heard about all the things that “build character” like eating your peas, cleaning your room, and doing your homework. But do we really know what character is?
Joan Didion wrote “Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self respect springs.” Using this definition, character seems to be in short supply these days.
Many people today seem unwilling to accept responsibility for their decisions and actions – in short, for their own life. There exists a culture of victimhood in which few want to take accountability for their actions. For example, if you drink too much and drive your tree into a car, who is accountable….you or the host of the party you attended? Product labeling requirements have gotten so ridiculous that we need to be told that coffee is hot and may scald you, scissors are sharp and may cut you, and Drain-o shouldn’t be eaten. These are just 2 examples of how a lack of personal accountability has manifested itself in our society.
As a corollary, our society increasingly has an entitlement mentality, in which we feel we are owed a certain lifestyle. Again, the entitlement mentality stems from a lack of personal accountability. Rather than thinking you, the individual, is responsible to earn the lifestyle of your choosing, many people look to the government for support. This creates a state of dependency, since people no longer take responsibility for their actions and feel like choices are outside of their control.
That is not to say character is completely lost. There are many examples, both big and small, of people who do the right thing for the right reasons. There are people who are willing to be held accountable for their actions – accepting both positive and negative consequences. Our society needs more people of character, who are responsible for their own actions and, in turn, creates independence and self-respect.