Character building. Why it may not be the right thing for long term happiness.
The mind is sandwiched between the voice of conscience on the inside, and the world outside. When one aspect of our being is living by the conscience and the other living for the world, it can become a source of friction in the mind. This is not sustainable in the long run, and the choice becomes one or the other. From the standpoint of the mind, the voice of conscience is dull and boring. However, the truth that it conveys is very consistent, but it may lack the variety that the world offers. When the mind is not steady, it prefers the range offered by the world. To enjoy this variety, we create an artificial persona. It is another form of the ego. When the ego is polished and conforms to certain norms, it becomes our character. It is always outward facing, towards the world.
The role of character in our lives
The character we cultivate is like a protective barrier. It is easy to hide behind a carefully cultivated persona. The world sees the finished product, our character, but only we know the true nature of the raw ego which lurks within. There is a certain immunity we feel from having this barrier between ourselves and the world. However, the character we adopt and cultivate can take a life of its own, and keeping its external facade becomes a full-time occupation.
The character sees the world in its opposites. This provides comparison and the mind lives and grows through such pairs of opposites. Everything is categorized based on our likes and dislikes. One pole is positive, and it corresponds to our likes, and the opposite pole is negative, which correlates with our dislikes. The ego gravitates towards the positive pole of our likes and tries to create a distance between the negative pole or our dislikes. The ego is careful not to bring attention to flaws in our character. Hence, from the ego’s standpoint, the within is always right, while the outside consists of both good and bad.
The character we assume carries our aspirations and desires, especially the ones that the world would approve. Society places a great emphasis on building character. Each man or woman of good character is judged to be so against an ideal that is decided by the community. The more we conform, the better we are in the eyes of the world. We are so accustomed to the character we portray, we become it, and we often don’t have another reference point. The world will never know the true nature of our ego that is covered by the veneer of the character we project to the world.
A good test of whether we are hiding behind the mask of an assumed character is to observe ourselves in different situations. This observation should emanate not from the perspective of the character, but our ability to observe that character in action. It comes is a deeper place of perception, and everyone has this ability. Just as we can observe our outstretched hand in front of our eyes, we can also observe the mind, thoughts, and character. If we can do this, we are scratching the surface of our witnessing consciousness.
Home vs. work character
At the workplace, we behave in a specific manner, depending on where we are on the hierarchy. The dynamics at play determines our behavior, which turns into our ‘work-related character.’ At home, we may behave differently. There is more freedom.
Consequently, the guard comes down. Since we are freer to be ourselves, the outer layer is peeled off, revealing the ‘home character.’ Some may say how we are at home shows our true colors. This is not entirely accurate. Whether work or home, both are different aspects of the same character. Since the ego is one, the character is also one, but its colors are different depending on what behavior we decide to wear.
Character and the true self
When we hide behind a character, we are selling one version of ourselves while hiding the true nature. Even if the world does not call out this deception, the inner voice of conscience will bring attention to this. In this split between the character and the true self, freedom is lost, as we get enslaved to the character that is built. When freedom is lost, we cannot be truly happy.
When we detach from our true self and start to operate through a character that gets cultivated, we lose touch with the well of spontaneous happiness that lies within. This happens somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Children are innocent, and they do not have a character that they project to the world. They are as they are regardless of the place or the person with whom they interact. They are honest and straightforward. This quality endears all children to us. There is great joy in their smiles. We can also embody such pure, innocent, and deep joy.
First, the character will have to be dropped. It can be tough to do, as we are accustomed to the happiness that is associated with praise showered on our character. We are also accustomed to vigorously defending the character we have built up. By dropping character, the ego is also lost. However, the ego can surreptitiously rebuild another version of our character.
A simple test will help us know whether we are true to ourselves or working through our character. Two parameters will have to be kept in mind. One is the expectation we have of others, and the other is taking others for granted. Both come out of the ego.
When there is an expectation we place on someone, we tend to behave in a specific manner depending on our relationship and the freedom we have with the person. Until we get what we expect, we talk and act in a way that suits that expectation. If we are honest with ourselves, this artificial nature will be apparent. When we take someone for granted, we may be tempted to talk down, especially if we are in a position of power. Expectations turn into demands. This is a forceful version of the ego, a “demanding character.”
When expectations or demands are met, the satisfaction and happiness that go along with them are not lasting. As happiness fades, the same behavior is repeated in the hopes of recreating another wave of joy. By doing so, the character gets strengthened and becomes a permanent unwanted guest. If we decide we can evict the ego and the character it showcases immediately. However, it can also be persuaded to leave over time. Immediate eviction of the ego is like changing the locks on the main door to our being. We have given the character the keys to our awareness. It can use it as it pleases. The immediate method of dropping character is taking charge of our awareness in this instant. Nothing is stopping us from doing just that.
The ego mediates and coaxes us to take the more relaxed and slower method of gradually distancing ourselves from the character. If we are lazy and don’t have a strong will, this method will be more suited. Either way, the sudden or gradual dropping of ego and character will result in the emergence of the true self. With the true self, there is no calculation, expectation, strategy, or forceful assertion in our dealings with the world. This helps drop the inner garments of stress that lie just beneath the character we carry around. We feel lighter, more joyful, freer, and life becomes a great experience at every moment.