Character building is an effort that builds or improves upon an individual's mental and moral characteristics. The following are illustrative examples.
DisciplineCharacter building implies some degree of discipline whereby an individual makes sacrifices and faces hardship to solve a problem or achieve a goal. For example, a student who studies for long hours for many weeks in a row during exams. Beyond any knowledge they gain from this experience, it can transform their capacity to focus and direct their efforts towards a purpose even if they aren't feeling particularly motivated.
ComraderyThe experience of working towards common goals as a team in an environment of competition and constraints. For example, the experience of contributing to a soccer team that really wants to win despite intensive competition and unlikely odds such that members pull together.
Accountability & ResponsibilityThe experience of being trusted with accountability or responsibility for something of importance. For example, a system whereby senior students are given roles in helping and serving as a good example for younger students.
Calculated risk taking is a fundamental aspect of character building. Risk surrounds all things in life such that learning to embrace risk in a calculated and managed way builds life skills, bravery and resilience. For example, the Dutch scouting tradition of "dropping" whereby children are dropped in a random spot in the forest in the middle of the night with the mission to return to base camp. This can be compared with the common practice of helicopter parenting in North America, whereby children are driven everywhere they go.
LeadershipThe experience of leading others towards a common purpose. For example, leadership roles on a sports team such as the captain of a hockey team.
DebateThe experience of arguing and trying to persuade others. Builds admirable character traits such as tolerance for disagreement and personal resilience.
Honor SystemAn honor system is a system of rules and values that is implemented by placing trust in the members of a group as opposed to monitoring and controls. This is critical to character building as individuals who are tightly monitored never have the opportunity to show that they are worthy of trust and may become resentful of values where there was potential to take pride in them. For example, a school shop without a cashier or monitoring system whereby students are trusted to leave payment. The main penalty for not paying would be tarnishment of one's honor. This requires the school to build a culture that values both trust and honor.
Freedom Character building implies vivid experiences whereby an individual makes mistakes, fails or succeeds with their own efforts. This requires freedom. For example, the Amish rite of passage known as Rumspringa whereby adolescents are allowed to engage in a certain amount of misbehavior and enjoy an unusual amount of freedom for several years before making the decision to either be baptized and follow the rules of Amish society or leave the community.
Personal ReflectionBeyond the dramatic aspects of character building such as risk taking, periods of quiet personal reflection also build character. For example, the practice of walking or sitting quietly in a natural place and emptying one's mind of their habitual patterns of compulsive thinking.
GoalsThe experience of setting and working towards a goal. For example, an athlete who trains each day with a goal to improve their performance.
FailureThe experience of failing despite one's best efforts. For example, an individual who takes on overly ambitious and optimistic goals. This may appear to result in failure but may have great value in developing knowledge and elusive character traits such as persistence and resilience.
Overcoming FearsActivities that people commonly fear or find difficult tend to be character building. For example, the process of mastering public speaking is generally character building.
CultureImmersion in the values, norms, expectations, language, symbols, history, traditions, pastimes, art, fiction, myths, folklore, entertainment and rights of passage of a culture or cultures can build character. For example, participating in a local festival or reading a great work of literature. This provides frameworks for understanding the world and interacting with others in a positive way.
Doing GoodSelfless acts are character building as are structured activities that do good without reward such as volunteering.
ImprovImprovisation is an activity that shakes people out of behavior patterns to such an extent that it may be character building. For example, the rules of improv require you to always say yes to the person before you such that you have to build on their idea no matter how improbable. This runs contrary to the habits drilled into us by the education system that we need be constantly critical of the ideas of others. As such, improv builds character strengths such as flexibility, adaptability and the capacity to cooperate.
ToilToil is work that is manual and intensive. Modern society seeks to eliminate toil with automation and modern conveniences. However, the process of devoting your full attention to humble work can be character building. For example, the Japanese art of tea ceremony seeks perfection in the humble act of preparing and serving tea. Likewise, doing a good job on a humble task such as gardening or cleaning your room can build character traits such as calmness, patience, attention to detail and diligence.
NotesThe term character building is often used to suggest that adversity is beneficial to the mind.
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