Rely on Character, Not Personality

My daughter Ella just took 2nd place in oratory at a major debate tournament at BYU.  I found her speech to be apropos to the political world, to campaigns, to either choose a candidate or try to be one.  I post it here because 1. I couldn’t have said it better, and 2. I take great pleasure in sharing something this good from my own daughter.

Rely on Character, Not Personality
by Ella Johnson

A few months ago, I decided to do some soul searching, and I found myself asking the question “who am I?” I decided to do the obvious thing and turn to a very credible source to answer that question for me… buzzfeed personality tests. Not only did I learn that I should dye my hair purple, that I have the personality that matches biblical Mary, and my greatest fear is heights, but that my actions are motivated by compassion and a sense of duty and I rarely do anything for my own benefit or gain. What’s interesting to note is that these personality tests, launched a couple of years ago, have gained immense popularity. Buzzfeed’s most popular test is titled “What city should you actually live in?” resulting in 20 million visits. Turns out I should be living in Portland Oregon with the rest of the half-way vegans. In reality, most of us figure out whether we’re in Griffindor or Slitherin, Belle or Cinderella, and Darth Vader or princess Leia, because it’s fun, free, entertainment. However there is a variety of other personality tests whose purpose is not entertainment, but real soul searching and self discovery. Maybe you’re a “Type A,” a blue, a 1:4, or an ENFJ. We may label ourselves as an introvert or an extrovert. So although you may dress your truth, or be prone to melancholy, the question must be asked: what is it really, that makes personality tests so popular?…. Well, they’re only one example to show that all of us buy into the falsehood that the best way to discover ourselves, is to find, and be authentic to; our personalities.

But let’s just think for a moment if Joan of Arc had a personality test… ”you’re strong, courageous, and go against the worlds standards.” Or think about if George Washington had one…”you’re the humble one of the bunch, and always care more about others than your own personal interests.” Consider still the personality tests of Shakespeare, Columbus, or Einstein. This is ill-conceived and speculative to imagine, because these historical figures don’t just have personality, they have character. They did not rely upon their personalities to tell them how to act or who to be, they simply did what they believed was right. How is it that when we imagine our own personalities, we do not feel the same way as when we imagine the tests of these figures? Do we feel the way we characterize ourselves is ill-conceived or speculative? No! This is because labelling personality is popular! Hip, totally cool, rad, and all the rage these days. In our world of “soul-searching” and labels, we have learned to rely upon personality to define us rather than character. And it’s really no wonder we have crafted it this way. Relying on personality leaves us with the perfect opportunity to blame whatever problems we may have on it. Teenagers often run into situations in which they expertly use this technique. It’s usually when they’ve done something they’re parents have deemed unacceptable in life, like gone completely goth, decided to be in the school musical instead of being a basketball star, or worst of all, wearing really low hanging baggy gangster pants. It’s not hard to imagine them saying to their heartbroken mother “Mom, this is just who I am.” I’ll admit…I have even used this justification when I broke a lightbulb, crockpot, and a glass mug consecutively. “I’m just clumsy, Mom. That’s just a part of me you’re going to have to accept.” Yet, personality is not just an excuse teens use, we all take advantage of it. Have you ever been challenged to do something, maybe it’s some kind of public speaking or teaching, or maybe it’s something physically active, or it’s simply keeping your room tidy, and you automatically blamed it on the fact that you’re just not the type of person that does well in the spotlight, or you’re just not a very active person, or even the fact that you’re an artist, and artists are always messy and untidy? Have you ever found yourself in a rage because people just don’t understand you? Can you positively say you have never used being an introvert as an excuse to watch netflix alone in a dark corner, or used your extrovertedness as an excuse to avoid school, work, or cleaning? The truth is, we use this excuse because it’s extremely effective. We believe that personality is something we can’t change. It’s just who we are. Yet as we rely on this screenshot of ourselves, this idea of our personality frozen in time, it stops us from progressing. It’s simple. If we believe we can’t change anything about ourselves, then there’s really no point in trying to change. This is the danger in relying upon our test deemed personalities to tell us who we are and how we should act.

There are many people in the world who have let personality, this idea of self discovery through “soul searching”, be their compass. The world of celebrities is the perfect example of this… it’s full of immorality, vulgar language, money, and divorces. However, they still seem so content because they’re truly being their authentic selves. Oprah Winfrey said it best when she stated “I certainly had no idea that being your authentic self could get you as rich as I have become.” The band audioslave put it in their hit song as well, and received 100 million views for their chorus which states “to be yourself is all that you can do.” Another accurate representation of this is our current President Donald Trump. He has an entertaining, brutally honest, and demanding personality. He’s states ‘You must go forth into the world, with passion, courage in your conviction, and most importantly be true to yourself. I did it!’…. So Donald Trump may be “true to himself”… but regardless of whether you agree with his political beliefs or not, you can’t deny his 2 divorces, 6 bankruptcies, and the many circumstances in which he has said rude, crass, and inappropriate things. Sounds like he’s taking his own advice and truly being his authentic self! What we learn from these celebrities is that if you rely on your personality to tell you who you are, you lose character.

My older sister Ari has a huge personality, as well as good character. I look to her as an example in my life, and sometimes, spend more time looking down on myself. I’m ashamed to admit that I often find that I’m wishing for some of the gifts she was given, like the ability to make those around her feel comfortable, the aura of fun and excitement, a savvy sense of humor, and deep understanding of people and issues. Every time someone would talk about what my sister did or laugh at one of her jokes I would get more and more bitter inside because I thought it was unfair that I wasn’t given what she was given. I finally came to the realization that so many celebrities need to come to. Doing what’s in line with “who you are” is far less important than doing what is right, or what develops character. The fact is, it’s wrong to be jealous, it’s wrong to think that just because someone is labeled more extroverted, clever, or humorous than you, you can’t change… It’s wrong to make your actions align with a description of your personality on a test, rather than aligning your actions to your moral compass.

George Washington truly understood this principle. For his first term as president, Washington did no campaigning, and even doubted whether or not he would accept the job if elected. He stated at his Mount Vernon farm that he had “no wish which aspires beyond the humble and happy lot of living and dying a private citizen”. During his presidency he was known to have stated “I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” Based on these quotes alone, Washington seemed to be more of the introverted type. But his personality type didn’t matter to him…or if it did, it was not nearly as important as serving his fellow men. Good character, as George Washington has shown us, is not developed through being your “authentic self,” or even blaming your weaknesses on your personality, but through selfless acts, and painful sacrifice.

If we strive to emulate this level of good character, we will not need to rely on personality tests, self-help books, “breaking the arrow,” or soul searching to give us identity. In the New Testament in Matthew it reads “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Regardless of whether or not you’re religious, I think this principle still stands true. As we lose ourselves in the service of others, or in doing what is right, we will fulfill and find our purpose in life…In other words, we will find ourselves. I look to Joan of Arc as a striking example of this. In a play about her it is written “One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it…and then it’s gone. But to surrender who you are and to live without belief is more terrible than death.” Through doing what she believed was right, through serving her God, Joan of Arc found purpose. She found that developing character is a far superior path of self discovery to searching your inner soul to find out who you “really” are.

In the book titled Les Miserables by Victor Hugo there’s a man named Jean Val Jean who broke his parole. Because of this, the police constantly seek him out to punish him. At one point, he hears that the police have found and are ready to condemn what they believe to be him, but is actually an innocent man. In this iconic soliloquy, where Jean Val Jean was under so much stress it turned his hair white, he asks the pivotal question; “who am I?” Will he condemn the innocent man, or will he go in his place as the real Jean Val Jean? As we look to our worldly culture… such as celebrities quotes, personality tests, and damning excuses, will we really find an answer to that anxiety-filled question? Can we so fully discredit Washington’s, Jean Val Jean’s, and Joan of Arc’s sacrifice, integrity, and martyrdom; can we discredit their understanding of losing themselves to find themselves? True self discovery is found through character, because, in so many ways, who you are is who you make of yourself. And for Joan of Arc, that is a knowledge worth dying for.

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