14. VALUES, PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER
In this article I have grouped together three subjects which go a long way to defining a person. To some extent it is difficult to distinguish between them. Nonetheless, there are still several differences which I will attempt to highlight.
You could say that values, personality and character form together the core of a person. We can select and adapt values. This is more or less an act of will. But personality and character are more permanent, influenced by our genes.
A few examples of values are: security, comfort, good health, wealth, growth etc. If a value is to be an effective guideline then it has to be chosen voluntarily. However, values are often heavily influenced by parental upbringing. Values are the driving force behind behaviour.
Some values emerge as compensation for what you may have disliked in your early years of development within your family. Some values are actually ‘inherited’. Values are the source of your core motivation and behavioural patterns. A mismatch between your values and what you experience can cause a lot of problems.
You should try to draw up a list of your values and what they mean for you. I have never found this easy but certainly enlightening. However, clarity in individual values is thought to be the gateway to commitment and initiative. The difficulty, which sometimes arises, is that it is easier to picture values in a particular context, when we need to look a little more broadly.
Ultimately, I came to a personal list which is intended only as an indication as to what might be chosen: integrity, loyalty, understanding, dependability, reliability, consistency of behaviour (avoiding extremes where possible), self-control and enthusiasm which is well placed and not overdone. But by every value you will find yourself asking, what do I exactly mean ? Values define the range of behaviour which is acceptable to you. They are self-imposed restrictions but at the same time welcome guidelines.
The other thing about values is that they help to define a group. If you belong to a group you share its important values. Just think about this for a moment! Culture is defined by shared norms and values by a group of people.
Personality comprises those aspects of someone’s behaviour which are relatively stable and enduring. Personality is a relatively modern word meaning how you are perceived, rather than how you actually are (see character).
According to Peter Gray, personality refers to a person’s general style of interacting with the world, especially with other people. Personality is about the ways people differ from one another but remain true to themselves. Personality gradually becomes more stable as people get older and more immune to outside influence. It is described as ingrained behaviour and as responses which are predictable in a person.
There is a conscious and a sub-conscious part to personality. The conscious part includes knowledge and skills. The sub-conscious part concerns own image, values, convictions, characteristics and motivations.
The big five personality types
There are five main aspects/degrees of personality:
- Openness – the willingness to try new and imaginative experiences.
- Conscientiousness – the extent of self-disciplined organisation.
- Extraversion – the extent of social gregariousness.
- Agreeableness – the willingness to help others.
- Neuroticism – the degree of emotional stability.
Two of these dimensions, extraversion and neuroticism appear to be innate. The other three are more sensitive to environmental influence. I have picked out extraversion/introversion for further comment, because it concerns everybody and needs to be taken account of.
Extraversion and introversion
The behaviour of extraverts is easy to observe, that of introverts much less so and depends on the degree of sensitivity. Introverts are empathic and have a strong conscience. Reward sensitivity is what makes an extravert what he is.
Jung believed that extraverts and introverts are attracted to one another and I think this is true. This was further explained by Eysenck.
Introverts have certain traits: alertness, sensitivity to nuance, complex emotionality. They turn out to be highly underrated powers. High sensitivity in the nervous system is the biological basis of introversion. Extraverts lack this sensitivity and must therefore seek compensation from outside.
Extraverts and introverts are different socially, but they both need intimacy and are equally likely to be agreeable. Introverts like to minimise aggression and have the tendency to recede emotionally while extraverts are often confrontation seekers. Introverts like to meet people in friendly circumstances, extraverts prefer people they can compete with.
The word ‘character’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘stamp’. Character is stamped on you by experience rather than being an innate quality. It becomes a reliable pattern of responses to a variety of situations.
E.O. Wilson said that character is the internalisation of the moral principles of society augmented by those chosen by the individual to facilitate endurance through the trials of solitude and diversity. This leads to the concept of an integrated self. Character is an individual’s unique combination of internal beliefs and moral habits which motivate and shape how that individual relates to others.
The central aspects of character are:
- integrity – acting consistently with professional principles and values, telling the truth and standing up for what is right.
- forgiveness – letting go of one’s mistakes and those of others.
- responsibility – owning up to personal choices and leaving the world a better place.
- compassion – empathising with others and being committed to their development.
As noted in the introduction to this article there are a lot of similarities between values, personality and character. That is also the reason for grouping them together. It is important to have attempted to draw up some values which guide the way you live and work, but also to know something about personality and character. Take the big five personality traits and try to place yourself between the implied extremes of each of the five. This will help you to act in a way which fits with your personality and character, which will always be in the interests of yourself and your environment.