You go on and on about character. And you are the only one I know who does so! Most people I know are obsessed with survival or fashion, pleasure or money, ambition or success. Is character really so important? Why?
Our country is indeed obsessed with the things you mention, but it is also obsessed with a kind of spirituality that has no final or ultimate use for character. That is why character is not widely understood in our country.
How to explain “character” briefly, so you don’t get bored?
Well, I don’t know if you have read Graham Greene’s novel, Brighton Rock. It is not a particularly great novel, and Greene is not the world’s greatest novelist, so please don’t take it as a recommendation of the book. But Greene was fashionable to read when I was your age, and I mention the novel only because that is where I first came across something called Brighton Rock. In the novel, one of the characters says: “It’s like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you’ll still read Brighton.”
I had no idea what the character was talking about. I wondered how you could have a rock that was in sticks, and how one could bite it “all the way down”, and how could one still read Brighton?
It was only when I once visited Brighton, which is a seaside resort in the south of England, that the mystery was suddenly solved. There, for the first time, I saw (and tasted!) Brighton Rock.
It is actually not a rock at all, but a sweet that is rock-hard on the outside, and a bit softer on the inside. It is stick-shaped and has the name of the town embedded throughout its length, so that no matter how much of it you break off, you can still read the name. I don’t know where such sweets were first manufactured, but they can nowadays be found throughout the world. In India and other countries you can sometimes find similar individual sweets, with writing or a pattern in the centre, and you can even nowadays find similar “soft sweets”.
Anyway, what’s the connection between Brighton Rock and your question about character?
Well, character is what you are in the deepest core of your being, all the way through.
But there is also a difference between the way Brighton Rock is made and your character (or mine). Brighton Rock is made once for all – till it is consumed. By contrast, you and I constantly shape our character.
All of us have some ideals but every action, every choice, every thought that we allow to dwell in our minds, modifies the kind of person you are, either reinforcing and subtly taking us closer to those ideals, or farther away from them.
Every day and every moment, we are faced with choices between our ideals and the temporary advantage or pleasure that can come from moving away from them. Will I lie? Will I cheat? Will I look at that man or woman lustfully or jealously? Will I put my best efforts into my work or only do the minimum necessary?
Discovering your purpose
You can see, I hope, the connection between character and “calling”. The latter is the idea that each of us was made by God for a specific purpose, which it is our responsibility to fulfil. I have written about calling occasionally in letters to you and others.
Both character and calling have to do with discovering and fulfilling God’s dream for us, God’s intention when he made us. It is to do with discovering, guarding and nurturing your innermost being. It is do with becoming who you were really intended to be.
Have you seen the film Chariots of Fire? It is a fact-based film, which won four Academy Awards, about two athletes in the 1924 Olympics – do see that if you haven’t. In it, one of the two main characters, Eric Liddell, at one point says to his sister: “I believe God made me for a purpose. He made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
Becoming what God intended you and I to be is the only important assignment in our lives. If we do that assignment well, it not only gives God pleasure but we feel his pleasure in us. It is the only way to live a really fulfilling life.
Not bothering to understand why you were made, or not understanding it, or not pursuing that after you have understood it, is a sure way to end up having perhaps lots of things in life, but to remain at the end without what is the most important.
Jesus put it this way, “What shall it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”
So, dear Shanti, don’t go after merely what the world goes after. Go where you are meant to go. Whatever the cost. Because, at the end of the day, your character and your calling are the only things that really matter.
Published in the June 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine