When I was growing up in Western Pennsylvania, my folks often described someone in our community this way: “He is really a character” or “She is some character.” They didn’t get too much more specific than that with my sisters and me, but we came to know that someone being called a “character” meant that they weren’t behaving in ways my parents approved of.
On the other hand, as I got older, I would hear others say about someone in a very delighted way, “I just love that guy. He is a really interesting character.” So, what is a character…or even just what is character?
The dictionary defines it in a number of ways:
- The distinctive qualities of an individual.
- Moral or ethical quality.
- Reputation…as in “a stain on one’s character.”
The dictionary also says the word comes from both Latin and Greek and is connected to a tool used to make its mark. Hmm, I like that. We all have certain traits that make up our character…that cause us to leave our mark on the world.
I guess organizations have character, too. An old friend who worked with restaurants as a consultant used to say he believed in the 10-10-10 rule: it takes ten thousand dollars worth of advertising and promotion to get you into a restaurant…ten seconds to disappoint you because of poor service or surly staffers…and ten years to get you back. I wonder if we are judged as people in a similar fashion based on how someone perceives our character.
Thomas Paine once wrote, “Character is much easier kept than recovered.”
If I am a character…and I’m sure I am…I hope the mark I’m leaving is a good one.