on the corner “Defects of character”
A character defect is an invalidating flaw in the fundamental nature of a person. When evident, it brings into question the person’s mental or moral constitution. It’s the feature that mars the perfection of objects and people.
Don’t worry, though, you are not perfect, and in fact, striving for perfection is in itself a character defect.
Perfectionism stimulates pathological behavior. We’re never going to have it. Somehow, in our formative years, perfectionists implied a parental requirement to strive for perfection in all aspects of life. We took that injunction and ran with it. It became “be perfect!”
Now, we have perfected it in us and it has become a compulsion to achieve an unattainable goal. We are not perfect creatures. We’re not made that way. We’re never going to get that way.
So, like our parents, we’ve all got some character defects. What we need to do is first, elevate our awareness of them by understanding how this behavior became part of us, and second, with that understanding, work on changing it.
Let’s start with some basics.
Character defects are most evident when you are losing the battle between faith and fear. Faith provides you with the confidence to surmount the challenges we all face in life. Fear either consumes us or is pushed aside depending on how we deal with the ultimate concerns of our existence.
Ultimate concerns and character defects
- Death and being. We all face death. There’s no avoiding it. It is such a stark unknown that it elevates our anxiety. Individuals with spiritual commitments construct a belief system that provides a way to confront death more easily.
- Some ignore death—just push it aside. Some test its power through engaging in highly dangerous activities. We all must accept the reality of death in our life if we are to achieve authenticity, to be real. If we deny it, our anxiety kicks in and we find ourselves locked into many character defects like: self-centeredness, self-righteousness, prejudice, conceit, gossip, hatred and anger, resentment, and overconfidence.
2. Freedom and responsibility. We strive for structure in our life, for orderliness. We believe there is always solid, unshakable ground beneath us. Then, the earth shakes—not always from an earthquake. Sometimes the quake comes from tragedy, failure, sudden economic loss and other of life’s exigencies that dash our certainty. Nevertheless, we must learn that ultimately, we must take responsibility for the way we live our lives no matter how much guidance and support we get from others.
We discover we, alone, are responsible for who and what we are. Then, with the dread of our human imperfection, we resist awareness of our freedom and become irresponsible.
Responsibility demands commitment to action—change. It requires activation of the will, and this demands accepting the freedom to change. We activate the will first with the wish. The wish voices an admission that we want the future to have certain characteristics. It relieves the tension of inaction and gets things moving. When we move to the want, a step toward commitment and choice, we then will action. There is no such thing as “effortless change.”
Therefore, we often try to protect ourselves through defects of personality like: self-pity, arrogance, inconsiderateness, irresponsibility, avoidance, self-deception, and dependence.
3. Loneliness: isolation and relationship. “No matter how close I get to other people I must still face life alone.” Loneliness, usually understood as interpersonal isolation, is, actually, much more. It is not appreciating or liking the person you are with when alone—not liking yourself. With spiritual faith, our walk toward death is never alone.
Irvin Yalom, an existential psychotherapist, said, “No relationship can eliminate isolation. Each of us walks alone in our existence. Yet, aloneness can be shared in such a way that love compensates for the pain of isolation.” Acknowledging the reality of our isolation can make us able to reach out to others—to achieve a life that includes otherness.
Philosopher Martin Buber gave us his definition of two different types of relationships: I-thou and I-it. The first is built on mutuality. The second is functional, but lacking in mutuality.
We often use these character defects to combat our loneliness: intolerance, jealousy, envy and grandiosity.
4. Meaning and meaninglessness. In describing man’s search for meaning, neurologist and psychologist Victor Frankl wrote that “the human being cannot hope to know with fullness a meaning that exists in a dimension beyond comprehension.” That’s true. I can find, however, the meaning of my life. In my humanness I can grow in my awareness of God by knowing, understanding, and behaving in harmony with Christ. To be like Jesus calls me to be the best I can be, to achieve a full measure of altruism, and in my adult years to be able achieve a stable identity and to transcend “self” through an otherness that reveals a pathway to meaning for succeeding generations.
I avoid: laziness, ignorance, selfishness, superiority and condescension.
I am I, you are you. While we may never meet, our souls can.