When we look to performance character, one critical element is ethical thinking, and the evidence we have of a strong, moral foundation. Character is evinced from decisions and judgement, and good judgement is based on a good morality, a good conscience. These in turn lead to a life well lived, a life of respect and integrity. What is the make-up of ethical thinking, the components?
The key point here is that character is observed and surmised from our thoughts, words and actions. So, what thoughts, words and actions go to make up good character? What are the elements of good character? What might we consider necessary in the activities of another person that we might say they are a good and noble person, a person exhibiting human excellence with charisma and character?
Performance character has eight elements.
1. Lifelong learner and critical thinker
2. Diligent and capable performer
3. Socially and emotionally skilled person
4. Ethical thinker
5. Respectful and responsible moral agent committed to consistent moral action
6. Self-disciplined person who pursues a healthy lifestyle
7. Contributing community member and democratic citizen
8. Spiritual person crafting a life of noble purpose
We may say there are eight elements to this inspiring definition of character, but without integrity, we have no character. Bereft of unity of thoughts, words and actions, we are bereft of true humanness, that which distinguishes us from those who behave in demanding – and perhaps, antisocial – ways, and those who behave without reference to other persons nor any values that might unite us. Integrity is this connection, this harmony, this congruence between our actions, words and thoughts that point to inner harmony and purpose, truth and peace, love and right conduct.
Thinking uses the mind to consider matters carefully. This is the capacity of reason, that results in inferences, decisions, judgements. We use thinking to make distinctions of right and wrong. (That is, if we have a well-formed conscience. Else, we are simply following feelings or the mood of the crowd.) Good judgement arises from character formation, which includes formation of conscience. We have the capacity to respond to moral challenges that is in harmony with the kind of life we wish to live. This indicates a strong identity coupled to the obligation to self, society and culture to do the right thing.
Strength of commitment to doing the right thing arises from personal identity, self awareness and integrity. If we have self-awareness, then we have a strong identity and a clearly formed dichotomy of right and wrong. Having a personal morality that acts as a rule of thumb which we can apply to challenges reaffirms our self-identity. However, this evolves and changes with time, and with the ages of life. Children are presented with good and bad, truth and lie; teenagers and young adults are presented with honesty and trust, and the consequences of breaking that honesty and trust. Adults and those making their way through society and culture, work and relaxation build resilience and good character on their increasing capacity for moral competence.
Moral competence is the “know how” needed to translate discernment, conscience and identity into effective moral behaviour.
In our moral tool-kit, we are taught that right and wrong exist. We need to be discerning, and discover what is truly good and right in situations we encounter. We then form our conscience on this. This is a short cut to happiness: we form an opinion (or decision) and live in accord with those values that guide that opinion or decision. Our conscience is formed by beliefs, standards, values, what is right, what is good, what does not harm or hurt another. We can apply these guides from our conscience with confidence and enjoy good outcomes. A well formed conscience provides us with a strong moral compass.
Having clarity around right and wrong eliminates moral relativism. Moral relativism is saying What I think is right and wrong goes. There is no right, there is no wrong except what I think. I am not obliged to act in any way. Some say this is tolerance. Tolerance is an active value, not passive, and is a sub-value of non-violence. Moral relativism leads to a weak conscience and a weak character that is easily swayed by others and circumstances. We to ask ourselves, “What kind of a person do I want to become?” Do I want to be a good person, do I want to be a respected person, or do you not care and just want to have satisfaction and the fulfilment of your desires?
In answering “What kind of person do I want to become?” we need to say how you become that kind of person. What inner guidance, what compass do you use to achieve this goal? How do you build your strong personal identity? How do you elicit respect and affirmation from other people for your identity, your stance, your character? How do you build integrity in your actions, your thoughts, your words? How do you build that response from others that automatically elicits respect and gravitas?
A strong moral formation, a well formed conscience, a strong grasp of your inner identity and how that leads to a life of satisfaction, a life you want to live that is well lived. These are the components of ethical thinking that lead to human flourishing. Enjoyment. Happiness. Reaching the goals of life.
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