The Heart and Art of Character

Our character is a mosaic of different qualities. It is not fixed but dynamic, shaped by the patterns of life, the stories we tell, and the people around us.

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What is character?

Character is the guiding core of who we are – a mosaic of personal qualities that are developed over time and govern how we consistently perceive, think, feel, and act. Our character includes both our aspiration to be a certain kind of person and how we act on our values and concerns.

Stretching back to the ancient world, questions of character have been central to what it means to lead a flourishing life and contribute to the good of society. Today character is a prominent theme in philosophy, psychology, and education.

Why character matters

Good character is at the heart of what it means to live well. Positive character traits like integrity, creativity, courage, and compassion are known as virtues or “excellences” - ways of being that contribute to our own well-being and the well-being of others around us.

How character is developed

Character is shaped over time. It grows through a personal journey of repeated practice, observing role models, and reflection on experience. And it is shaped socially by people around us and patterns of institutional life, by the stories and spaces we inhabit. Character often grows most in the midst of difficulty.

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The heart of character

Character has a motivational component. It is about our aspiration to be a certain kind of person – to live in accord with what matters to us and determine who we want to become.

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The art of character

Character has a skill component. It is about successfully acting on our values and concerns, especially under pressure. Character can be developed over time by way of intentional practice.

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Personality is how you respond on a typical day. Character is how you show up on your worst day. It's easy to demonstrate fairness, integrity, and generosity when things are going well. The real question is whether you stand by those values when the deck is stacked against you.

Prof Adam Grant

Professor, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania