A mystery book appeared on my bookshelf and, literally, no one knows where it came from. Initially, the title didn’t intrigue me to read the book. What caught my attention was the sticker on the back with a library barcode and in bold block font, DO NOT REMOVE.
Yikes! It has been removed from that library and definitely used. I asked my kids if they took it from their school library, though it’s been several years. No, they hadn’t. My husband isn’t an avid reader so I knew he didn’t take it. Where did it come from?
I still have yet to find out how this book happened upon my bookshelf. However, it has drastically affected my everyday life and the way I think.
Being in my late 50’s, I’m done with self-help books. If I haven’t figured it out by now, I never will. The author of this book challenges individuals to go for 24 hours without a negative comment, gesture, or gossip.
Challenging my personal ethics
“Character is Destiny” by Russell Gough, has captivated my thoughts and actions for the past several months, challenging my personal ethics in everyday life.
Gough states, “On the bright side, you unquestionably have the capacity to improve your personal character. Regardless of your age or how “set in your ways” you may be, and no matter what your external circumstances, you have the internal ability — and the responsibility — to choose and continually strive to be better. The only question, now and forever, is: Do you have the will to do so?”
A couple of the chapter titles were convicting, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and “Character is what you are in the dark.”
Then in the foreword by William Kirkpatrick, he states, “‘Character is Destiny’ is more than a how-to book. Professor Gough provides us not only with commonsense practices, but also the commonsense philosophy that infuses practice with meaning. Moreover, he is aware of the self-defeating attitudes we often employ: ‘That’s just the way I am,’ ‘I’m too set in my ways to change,’ or ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’”
Refreshingly, “Character Is Destiny” rejects such moral evasions and replaces them with pragmatic guidelines for pursuing and cultivating virtue.
An ethics book? Who would ever think a book discussing ethics and practicing good behavior would be a book you can’t put down? I quickly read through most of the book and then finished the following day. It was the 11th chapter that most challenged me, “A man never describes his own character so clearly as when he describes another’s.” The first sentence of the chapter begins with, “On average, how much time and energy do you spend analyzing whether someone else is or isn’t being a good example or role model in comparison to the time and energy you spend asking the same question about yourself?”
Looking in the mirror
It’s easy to be critical of others yet never look into the mirror and self-examine. Gough challenges the reader to go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others. I took the challenge a little further and added no negative comments, unfavorable gestures, or expressions. During my 24 hours, I realized I roll my eyes and raise one eyebrow rather than verbalizing my disagreeing thoughts, which may be a better option, but still isn’t right. I do rant to my husband and children about mindless things that really don’t make a difference. Why waste oxygen to breathe such needless discontent?
Gough states if you can’t meet that challenge, then just like any other addiction of alcohol or drugs that needs intervention, you must recognize that you too have an addiction of negativity. You’ve lost control. I realize I didn’t have an addiction to negativity, criticism or unkind gestures. However, I did realize the gestures and rants were unnecessary and not purposeful, so why do it?
Perhaps the biggest impact is being unaware of the impact of our negativity and criticism. How can we determine the damage of our words?
Gough shares a tale from another author, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin:
“In a small Eastern European town, a man went through the community slandering the rabbi. One day, feeling suddenly remorseful, he begged the rabbi for forgiveness and offered to undergo any penance to make amends. The rabbi told him to take a feather pillow from his home, cut it open, scatter the feathers to the wind, then return to see him.
The man did as he was told, then came to the rabbi and asked, “Am I now forgiven?”
“Almost,” came the response. “You just have to do one more thing. Go and gather all the feathers.”
“But that’s impossible,” the man protested. “The wind has already scattered them.”
“Precisely,” the rabbi answered. “And although you truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers.”
Ask yourself these questions
We all have patterns (habits) of criticizing or speaking of others, responding with negative connotations, or devaluing another. Regardless of good or bad, it does reveal a great deal about our character. The chapter ends with critical questions to ask yourself, I will list a few of them.
- What is revealed about my character when I talk about others “in the dark” – behind their backs?
- Am I in the habit of exploiting the character of others?
- Do I tend to make derogatory remarks about others more often than complimentary remarks?
I know this is heavy stuff. However, along with new year’s resolutions to exercise more, save money, and take more vacations, why not add to the list and improve your character?
Take the 24-hour character test and see if your positivity is in check. Note on a piece of paper every time you say something negative or as I did, add negative gestures and expressions. At the end of 24 hours, self-examine and recognize necessary changes.
Do something about it. There’s no excuse!
I can attest I failed the test and was unpleasantly surprised. However, I have greatly improved in the past two months. Phew!