People can often be confused about the difference between attitude and character, and while they may impact each other they are really different and can often be confused. Both define us as persons and both determine how we are viewed by others, so it is important to understand what they are and how they differ from each other.
Attitude is a frame of mind, our thoughts and feelings which influence how we view the world. Our general attitude can determine whether we have a positive or negative outlook and is formed by our experiences. Our attitude relates to our disposition and influences how we react to any given situation. Our attitudes and perceptions impact our actions and conduct. Attitude is about our evaluation of situations and is easily discernable by others. In the short term, it is possible to change attitude.
Character is the very essence of what we are and is formed by a collection of core values and moral attributes which define our pattern of behaviour. Character is the sum of our traits- a composite of our values, virtues and vices. Character, therefore, defines our real identity. While we may conceal our attitude we cannot conceal our character. Core values such as honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, empathy, courage, fortitude are some of the qualities which contribute to character identity. We live by qualities that show our real character, form our identity and reflect our behaviour. It’s who we are. You do certain things because that is your character.
While our attitude can be seen in our character, it is our character that differentiates us from others because we each have unique qualities and characteristics. There is nothing more important than character because our character is really our moral and ethical strength. Living our values every day is an important aspect of character in action.
It is often said that character is deep within us, and as Henry Ford reminds us, it’s about “doing it right when no one is looking”. Each of us has both positive and negative character qualities which determine our attitude to circumstances and events and how we respond to them. The nature of our responses to life situations determines the results we get. Our character traits can dictate success or failure so we should try to minimise our negative character traits.
The word character can be traced back to the ancient Greek word “charassein” which means to sharpen or engrave, which evolved into the Greek word “charaktér”, meaning “distinctive quality”. Character is different from reputation, which is what others see and think about us. Both character and reputation should be aligned: Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow, The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing-Abraham Lincoln.
Character is also important for effective leadership. The character of those in leadership must always seek to engender trust, so a leader’s integrity and ethical strength should be clearly visible and genuine. Only people of sound character are trusted and only leaders who are trusted will have followers. When a person is trustworthy, their actions reflect their values. Good leaders must ensure that their actions reflect positively on them as people of character. Indeed, this is the case for every person, and our conscience can be the best judge of our character.
Nobody is perfect so we need to self-reflect on our own shortcomings and tackle any genuine deficiencies that we may have in our character. We can often be guilty of judging ourselves on our accomplishments or perceived lack of accomplishments, while we judge others on the content of their character. Good character builds trust and respect, so minimising negative character traits will enhance our chances of success in life. Character defines who we are, the actions we take, and the success we achieve. Better to be a person of character than a person of means – Irish proverb. What we become is far more important than what we achieve.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved -Helen Keller.
(Feature photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash).