What Are Character And Ethics?
What is character? What is ethics? Important questions for us all to answer.
Character is determined by ethics and ethics are determined by values. What does this mean? What are its implications for a journey to tranquil freedom within oneself?
Underlying character and ethics are value formation and trust. Underlying trust is truth.
Each of these qualities has specific and particular importance for a being to be at complete peace with oneself, happy and free.
Truth is the indispensable force underlying ethics and character. Without truth there is no trust. Without trust what are ethics and character but a bell ringing with no clapper.
The oldest discussions of character for which there are records come from the ancient Greeks.
They are best known from the musings of such well-known philosophers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Many of Plato’s “Socratic Dialogues” examine virtue and the character of a virtuous person.
In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle differentiates between excellence of thought and excellence of character.
For excellence of character he used the Greek term ethikai aretai. We translate this as moral virtue or moral excellence.
Aristotle’s emphasis was not on distinctiveness or individuality but on a combination of qualities that make the individual an ethically admirable person. Ethics is derived from ethikai.
Unfortunately today we do not hear much discussion of character and ethics. However they are perhaps more important topics to consider than most of what we hear bandied about as important issues by politicians and the press.
At all levels we see people being disgraced and sometimes imprisoned for greedy or immoral acts…many public figures in business, government, politics, sports, religion and others as well.
The development of character begins with a person’s formation of values by which they wish to live. Values form as a person grows and develops whether consciously or unconsciously.
These values determine the types of ethics a person chooses to use in making decisions important and trivial.
The values and the ethics applied determine the character a person possesses and displays on their journey through this life. One of the most important determinants of all the components comprising character is a person’s relationship to truth.
Certainly many of us sometimes embellish the truth a little…whether it is to make ourselves look better and satisfy our egos or whether it is to avoid causing pain to another person.
But what about how one acts on a regular basis? What about the big issues and decisions that can affect not only ourselves and another person but many people and perhaps their well-being?
This goes to the heart of a person’s character and who they really are. One of the most important qualities in a person’s relationship with others is the ability to have trust.
When a person is seen to be untruthful others do not trust that person. Without trust there is no meaningful relationship.
The way a person behaves and the acts they perform are a reflection of their values or their lack thereof.
Ethics are values in action, having the discipline to do what a person believes are right because of the values they hold. Value formation is critical to how a person lives their life.
All too often people’s values form almost by default and that is sad. They are absorbed almost by osmosis from the people around them with little critical thought.
Certainly everyone is influenced in their formation of values by parents, teachers, peers, colleagues and others with who they are in contact. However, the difference is whether they just accept the values of others or think critically about them before accepting or rejecting them in forming their own values.
This often determines how they develop their ethics and apply them in life. If they have consciously formed their own values there is usually a much stronger commitment to applying ethics that result in tangible actions reflecting those values.
If truth is not a critical component of their values and character early in life it is difficult to develop trusting relationships. Without trusting relationships it is difficult to have meaningful results in any endeavor or have lasting friendships.
A person’s character is critical to having a comfortable sense of peace, freedom and self-acceptance leading to a life of Tranquil Freedom.
Having truth as a primary value and reflecting it in the ethics of one’s actions or not doing so largely determines the character one shows to other beings and whether or not trust is felt by them.