August 16, 2013

Character or personality - that is the question

A book I am reading now jettisoned me onto this topic as a basic aspect of how we relate to the human environment that envelope us. These two aspects of the human essence, not a new topic at all, yet timeless in their essence, is a behavioral vista we juggle as we move through life – given the context we would like to inhabit. Our Islam professes to the virtues and vicissitudes of these. Aristotle in the Oracle days, and the 18th century philosophers broached these in one way or another. Turn of the last century guru Dale Carnegie famously wrote about it and taught this, and more recently modern day writers and seers such as Chopra, Covey,  Tolle, Krishnamurty and others began a conversation on this human duality, and now I have this book that I am reading. Whether in politics or in the movement of everyday life, these are two sides of the same coin so to say. But they do have distinct defining aspects and a genesis that links each to the social ethic that has morphed over these past centuries.

Early ethics brought in the idea of Character. This is necessary for nurturing a civilized society where we learn to respect each other and value the virtues of each person as a contributing element to the societal whole. We all together make the whole and even expand the final entity beyond the contribution of each element. Thus character is the essence of our true self or "spirit". This is even considered divine as this relates always to the good in us, and it is built up in each of us through experiencing the hardships of life. In bringing up children the traditional approach called for us to get our hands dirty and experience the hardships or "suffering" that life embodies. So when the next generations take up the mantle of responsibility, they are ready for putting all hands on deck.

But the turn of the 20th century brought in the wave of globalization and industrialization and the business ethic which was about making the customer buy and be influenced into wanting all that is produced on the assembly lines or in the sweatshops of big business. Thus was born the Personality ethic. This in spiritual terms is linked to the ego and the vanity that we all embody. Being beautiful and showy, being smart even to the point of deceptiveness, being loud and skilled in argument, are all celebrated and linked with this ethic's emergence. The explosion of the personality ethic in the marketing of our goods and services transformed the 20th century world into a powerhouse of wealth generation, competitiveness and social conflict that we see today. Gone now seems to be the days of sharing and caring as we all gravitate blindly to looking good with plastic smiles and attitudes that are only temporary and that glaze only the surface of our minds. Looking good and the lure of the moment is the keeping quality of the Personality ethic. It thrives on deceptiveness and guile that attempts to fool the buyer of the product time and time again, and we assume the  receptivity for this ethic by the power of our vanity that makes us want to just look good if nothing at all. The adverts that deceive us daily to buy household chemical cleaners that degrade our environment and our health, baby nappies of various brands and absorption capacity that litter our beautiful reefs, cigarettes that maim and kill us insidiously, clothes that make us look half or more exposed and yet we admire in the name of fashion and modernization, and desire them just because someone lured us into believing they look cool. Yes the personality ethic has us all playing up to the folly of the “emperor’s new clothes” so to say, and we are oblivious to the fact that whatever vestige of character we may have had lingering within us is being choked by this ego based aspect of our being.

We need to reclaim the character ethic if we are to survive as loving and sharing communities. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting article. The future generations should maintain those good virtues our ancestors kept despite getting our tiny little islands merged up with the rest of the world further day by day.