Behavior, character and personality are distinct levels in the evolution of the human being. When people display nice behavior, we say they are presentable. At the next level, when they have character, they can accomplish something. At a further level, being endowed with ‘personality’, they can create something original.
Let us first examine behavior. Behavior is superficial and comes through training. It is a channel through which a man expresses himself. The energies for behavior come from the vital emotions, whereas the energies for character come from the mind. The vital energies are short-lived responses to a situation. The ordinary man who is popular with everyone behaves well, has polite manners and does not criticize anyone. He is very presentable in society. But if this is where his growth has stopped, he cannot accomplish anything in the ordinary sense of the word. He cannot found an institution or make a mark in his profession. One dare not sign over a power of attorney to him or entrust him with any valuables for safe-keeping while one travels. In a question of something involving a material commitment, he will not be reliable. Behavior can be good and presentable, but beyond that behavior does not go. A mere behavior, a mere education, a mere age or experience will not accomplish something on its own
The vital impulses are short-lived. They know what they see. They can be trained and this training is used in situations where there is no stress on the person. The habits which are formed in the vital become its behavior. All habits that are received in the vital and organized at that level are only at the level of behavior, because the vital has no direction. It cannot remember how it behaved three days ago. If it needs to be polite in good company, it can be so, but the behavior is short-lived. If someone behaves like a friend today, he may be an enemy tomorrow.
When a person has developed character, he can accomplish something by himself. Character is organized in the mind. It has a memory and never forgets. When the essence of the vital experience which is behavior is received in the mind and organized well so that the mind accepts that as its central direction, then it becomes character.
A man with character fits into that level of society to which his character has risen. If he has a noble character or a weighty character, he may be a philanthropist or a CEO. If he has a character but his nature is small, he can organize and raise a family successfully. A person with character can establish his own business, raise a family, and accomplish a substantial work in the society. These are all things that many people have done. There are already a thousand businesses; one more will be established. A person with character can accomplish and do what has already been done before.
When the mind comes into play, it generally acts on an opinion or bases itself on an idea. It tries to understand and begins to think and organize itself. The vital does not think, it responds to the situation, but the mind listens to an idea. On the basis of this idea, the mind organizes its values. The mind gives its sanction to certain behaviors which it has accepted as right. This behavior then becomes a pattern. The essence of that pattern is based on respectability, on social values. The mental understanding is based on the idea that what is valuable must be respected. Once the mind accepts this, every behavior will be directed by that characteristic. If a mother teachers her child to be polite to his grandfather, the child does not know it should also be polite to his uncle. If the child’s mind, which is capable of understanding, receives the essence of this pattern of politeness towards elder relatives, the pattern becomes continuous and his mind accepts it as a general direction. Children should be polite to their elderly relatives. This one idea becomes a guide for all of his behavior, which becomes character. That is called self-direction. In other words, the behavior of the child, the emotional impulses, are guided by the mental understanding which has accepted the value of polite behaviour towards elder relatives.
A person with a mere behavior can follow instructions, but he cannot think on his own, whereas character comes from the mind and enables the person to carry out a task with self-direction. Without mind coming into the picture, character cannot be formed. The center of character is mind, while the center of behavior is the transient vital emotions. Character has greater energy than behavior because it is backed by thought and issues from a more central part of the being. Behavior shows itself in a short-lived individual situation, whereas character shows itself in all situations which the society has accepted and evolved. Character guides every behavior. If a man with character is ambitious, his ambition will be shown in everything he does.
What is personality? Character is necessary to achieve something in society, but when something has to be created anew, personality is needed. Where character may hesitate to attempt something completely new, personality will not. Personality can accomplish something original, whatever the field is.
Personality is deeper than character. It does not confine itself to an organized expression as character does. Character needs the support of the social and psychological milieu. Because mind is a narrow organism which functions on thought, it draws its values from the general level of thought in the society. Something in the person feels safe in that climate and then the mind understands, the heart is able to be enthused about that understanding and the body is able to work. Usually when mind has to think of something original, it begins to shake. Personality cannot be centered in the mind. It does not care whether anyone else has attempted a certain work before. It has the initiative to start a fresh work in a new field.
Personality does not require the extraneous support of the social sanction. After it has understood and the mind has consented, it has the imagination to give a mental emotion to that consent. Once the mind is able to visualize something in its own imagination, the heart does not hesitate to release its enthusiasm for the accomplishment of the work. The support for the work comes from the Being which is above the mind. If the mind is clear and the Being supports, it doesn’t need the support of the society. That is the difference between character and personality. Character is an efficient mental organism functioning within the social fabric of accomplished levels. Personality is an energy which comes from the Being, able to understand on its own, be enthusiastic on its own and be a trail blazer for the society. Whether the field is in literature, or scientific discovery or in industry or in founding a college, this is the basic difference between character and personality.
>What are the requirements of character and personality? Character cannot include personality, but personality must include the capacities of character and not be limited by them. Character requires understanding, strength of will, perseverance, and energy. Ideas are potential, powerful and supported by the society. The capacity for the mind to act on an idea gives you character. All men of high character will have strong, good opinions. But the understanding of character is limited because it understands only what everyone else has understood.
Mind acts according to fixed habits and preferences. There are great men of very high character. Their preference is always for refined living and their habits are good habits. Their mental constructions are of a high level of accomplishment. But they are bound by their opinions.
What personality requires is pure understanding, independent of a second person. The general endowments of personality are: pure intelligence in the mind, warmth and expansiveness in the heart, dynamism in the vital, endurance and perseverance in the physical. If these things are there on their own, they will include all the capacities of character. For personality, the capacity of the mind to take an idea to an idealistic level, for the achievement of the ideal is where it differs from character. A man with personality will be open-minded. He won’t be bound by his opinions or have rigid preferences. He will prefer what is best at that moment and be willing to change his habits if necessary.
To sum up, the pure components of personality are:
1. In the mind — presence of mind, clarity, understanding
2. In the will — steadiness and equality
3. In the heart — conservation, warmth, expansiveness and magnetism
4. In the vital — energy
5. In the physical — perseverance and endurance for work.
Sometimes personality degenerates into character, or character matures into personality in the same person. A person may have personality in administration, but not in politics. People who have founded banks, or colleges, or small institutions, or people who have decided to move away from their country to another country are people who have personality at that level. All people who are responsible to their families, to their children, to their parents, who live up to certain levels of accomplishment materially, who are just, fair, and ethical, have ethical characters, social characters, physical characters.
Generally character is understood to be something good. But it can be negative also. A smuggler has a character as well as a member of the Mafia. But his character does not express itself in a positive way. He knows how to organize people and how to be loyal to his group. He definitely has character. A person who has character will have people around him. A person of mere behavior will not attract followers.
People who say, “Tell me what I should do and I will do it” are at the level of behavior. They can run errands, they can obey people, they can eat what is served, but they cannot take care of others. People who say, “Give me this work and I will accomplish it and report back to you,” have character at that level. Other people who say, “Let me examine this proposal and if my mind understands and approves, my emotions will be enthused and I can act on my own,” have personality.
Behavior is the external appearance without being confirmed or supported by the mind and feelings. Character is what is supported by the mind and feelings. It is a behavior which is endorsed and directed by the mind. Personality is on its own. It is self-directed.
I once conducted a job interview with someone I found to be passionate, energetic, intelligent, engaging, and prepared. As I asked her questions designed to produce an accurate picture of her potential future performance, I remained attuned to my emotional reactions to her demeanor, trying to hear what my inner voice was telling me about her. At the end of the interview I found myself excited about the prospect of her coming to work for me. I had to remind myself to remain cautious, however, as I reflected on just how easy it is to confuse personality with character and how critical it is to separate them.
Personality is easy to read, and we’re all experts at it. We judge people funny, extroverted, energetic, optimistic, confident—as well as overly serious, lazy, negative, and shy—if not upon first meeting them, then shortly thereafter. And though we may need more than one interaction to confirm the presence of these sorts of traits, by the time we decide they are, in fact, present we’ve usually amassed enough data to justify our conclusions.
Character, on the other hand, takes far longer to puzzle out. It includes traits that reveal themselves only in specific—and often uncommon—circumstances, traits like honesty, virtue, and kindliness. Ironically, research has shown that personality traits are determined largely by heredity and are mostly immutable. The arguably more important traits of character, on the other hand, are more malleable—though, we should note, not without great effort. Character traits, as opposed to personality traits, are based on beliefs (e.g., that honesty and treating others well is important—or not), and though beliefs can be changed, it’s far harder than most realize.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
The problem in forming judgments about a person’s suitability for important roles in our lives (employee, friend, lover, spouse) is that we all have an uncanny predilection for observing attractive personality traits and manufacturing out of them the presence of positive character traits (that is, if someone is outgoing, confident, and fun we’re more likely to think they’re honest, moral, and kind). But it’s far from clear that the one kind tracks with the other. In fact, as I recounted in Listening To Your Inner Voice, that assumption often gets us into trouble.
We unconsciously tend to connect personality to character for two main reasons: we want to like people we already like, and the most reliable way to assess a person’s character is laborious and time consuming. (We actually need to observe people in character-challenging situations in order to make reliable deductions about their character. For example, if we observe someone lie easily, we can be reasonably certain from even just one instance that they’ve done so in the past and will do so again in the future, as the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.)
This is because the beliefs that drive us to do things like lie easily, or tell the truth, are present in us at all times. They may remain “dormant” until circumstances stir them up in such a way that they motivate observable action, but they’re rarely hidden away deliberately. Which begs the question: might there be a way to glimpse such beliefs without waiting for circumstances to put them on full display?
In a word—yes. Not so much by speaking directly with people whose character you’re trying to uncover, but by speaking with people who know the people whose character you’re trying to uncover. This is why, for example, wise prospective employers always call references.
The challenge, though, once we do is that prospective employees provide references they expect will speak well of them. The trick, then, is to ask questions of a person’s references designed to get them to reveal their most accurate judgments honestly.
Questions like “Have you ever known X to lie?” aren’t useful because the answer you get will depend on the character of the person you’re asking. You won’t know if a reference is comfortable lying themselves, so the veracity of any answer you get will remain questionable at best. For this reason, it’s better to ask questions that push people to apply their own judgment. These kind of questions are more likely (though certainly not in all circumstances) to return honest answers. Therefore, instead ask things like, “What in your judgment is X’s greatest weakness?” The implication here is that everyone has weaknesses, so it’s unreasonable to expect the answer to be “none.” It’s harder to make up a weakness on the spot than to tell the truth about a weakness that a reference actually perceives, so you’re more likely to get an honest assessment. Your reference may try to play down the weakness they reveal, but you can read between the lines.
The drawback to this technique is that it relies on the judgment of individuals, which we know is biased and often flawed. This drawback can be overcome, however, by asking the same questions of many people who know the person in whose character you’re interested.
Though it may seem Machiavellian, you can apply this process to friends and potential mates as well. The average length of time, for instance, people date before deciding to marry is approximately three years in the United Kingdom (a figure, I should note, that varies widely by culture). The challenge with deciding to marry someone after knowing them only three years, for example, is that some important character traits, good and bad, may not have revealed themselves by then. Of course, it’s socially awkward bordering on inappropriate to interrogate a potential mate’s friends and family about them directly. And though I’m not suggesting anyone do this, I am suggesting we can and should pay attention to data as it’s presented to us by others as they may be in possession of better data than we are. People generally have a hard time hiding their true feelings about others over time, so if you hear common themes from people close to the person in whose character you’re interested, pay attention. You’re almost certainly hearing the truth.
I don’t mean by any of the above to imply that personality isn’t important. But when we’re making decisions about who to let into our lives in critical roles, character must be considered equally important, if not more so, but is often readily overlooked. Luckily for me, the references of the person I interviewed all that time ago not only provided strong endorsements but endorsements whose content was consistent. I hired her and over time I found her to be as outstanding as her references predicted she would be.