by Richard C. Bayer, PhD, COO, The Five O’Clock Club and author of The Good Person Guidebook
Anyone can achieve their fullest potential, who we are might be predetermined, but the path we follow is always of our own choosing. We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can’t be changed but, it can be challenged. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.
Martin Heidegger, German philosopher
September 26, 1889 – May 26, 1976
Basically eschewing as much as possible the age-old debate about whether we are primarily what our genetics make us to be, or what our environment makes of us, Heidegger brings to the fore the importance of individual choice and personal destiny.
I have held many newborns in my own arms. They have been my own children, my children’s children, and those of many of my good friends. Almost all these parents proudly state, or imply, that their baby is somehow uniquely beautiful from the start. It may be scandalous of me to admit this, but in this matter I have been more impressed with how very similar all these newborn babies look and even act! (I hope my friends and family might forgive me for my personal observation here!)
Something very exciting happens with the passage of time. Children do not remain children very long. Alas, what parent, including myself, wouldn’t cherish the opportunity to go back in time for a few minutes and play with their young children! I am not digressing here. When they were young, they really were different from adults. As young children, there was a clear lack of formation; there was a noticeable indeterminacy about them. But the child matures. Older children no longer look or act the same as newborns and there is more to them. They have made many choices; they have taken in information, deliberated, chosen one path (and excluded others), and then finally acted. Suddenly, older children all act as differently as they now look! They are no longer amorphous bits of clay. They have taken definite early steps toward some eventual future self. This is all a very serious thing, since repeated acts form character and necessarily engender one’s destiny.
Ultimately, of course, there is a fantastic and (generally) delightful variation among grown persons. Through choices, adults have well-developed habits. Habits can be good or bad. Good habits we call virtues, bad habits we call vices. And it is these that constitute character.
Indeed, after the course of a full lifetime, our character is formed to a unique and near-razor point. The full “moral” range of character stretches from the monsters (most typically cited are the obvious types, such as Hitler and his attendant National Socialism) to those who achieve a certain perfection of compassion for others (say, Mother Teresa). Of course, most of us fall somewhere in between these extremes.
I am not a believer that, at a late point, one can change one’s character—apart, perhaps, from some sort of unusual grace. We should all take heed about the choices we make and, therefore, the paths we walk. Our initial form may be malleable but eventually becomes quite definite, clear to others, and a source of pride or shame. “Possibility” eventually gives way to a single actuality. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.
Questions to consider:
- Are you aware that, in your everyday life, your choices are expressions of your character?
- What do you do to influence the character of your friends, family, and business associates?
- Which actions do you take specifically to affect the character of your children?
- What simple things can you do to become a better person?