We have a saying in our house that began beautifully but eventually became weaponized, as families will occasionally do. “Be a man of character” was introduced to our family by my oldest son. His sister and younger brother now use it, mainly, to hold us to extraordinary expectations or as a gentle taunt when we are falling short. Falling short, in my case, seems to occur quite frequently if I am to trust my Catholic-guilt upbringing.
The concept is simple enough. The problem is that character defined is not good or bad. Merriam-Webster says character is, “The attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.” I think it is safe to assume that the original context in my son’s mind intended noble characteristics, things like: trustworthiness, respectfulness, fairness and empathy. I would love to live up to that definition of character more consistently. I could certainly benefit from looking for that more in others. A good friend of mine always reminds me to assume good intentions. Perhaps that is what my son means when he strives to be a man of character.
So much can go wrong when we ascribe motive to words and the actions of others. We really have no way of knowing intentions. Even more problematic is when we assume another’s actions and intentions are directed specifically at us. That may be the root of a lot of our problems these days. Things like road rage and social media ranting occur when we take things too personally. It’s ok if someone disagrees with us. I also think that if we assume good intentions it will be easier for us to maintain trustworthiness, respectfulness, fairness and empathy. When we assume good intentions we needn’t operate out of a defensive or aggressive mind set.
I think I need to start with trustworthiness. Trustworthiness goes both ways. I need to trust that others have good intentions if I expect the same from them. Ok. That gives me enough to work on for today. Let me know how that sits with you.