We have really two personas. One persona is characterized by what David Brooks in his book, “The Road to Character,” called the resume’ part of us. The other part of us is what he calls the eulogy persona.
Our resumés emphasize our education, skills, experiences and our awards – what we are recognized for. A resumé is written to impress and convince. Competence is the watchword and the gold standard of our behavior.
The eulogy persona is what people speak about us at our funeral. The emphasis during the eulogy is focused on a person’s character and compassion. Friends and relatives tell stories about the deceased that deeply affected their lives or made them laugh. These are the memories that people will carry about us for the rest of their lives. This is the most important part of our personas and the one that needs to be developed.
Brooks then discusses how we develop character. Often it is forged in the furnace of trials, tribulations, suffering and pain. Self-discipline only develops when we are faced with situations that force us to dig deep into ourselves. Character only comes when our vision, mission and goals are clearly defined and part of our inner being.
Victor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist interned in various concentration camps by the Nazis starting in 1942, came to deep insights about character and our purpose for living. He wrote about his experiences in the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
As a prisoner, Frankl had the opportunity to observe both himself and others as they were subjected to incredible suffering and deprivation. One of the things he discovered is that those who survived were not necessarily the strongest physically. Often the ones who survived were physically weak.
The ingredient that meant survival or death often came down to whether the person had a reason to live; it could be to be reunited with one’s spouse or children, to kill every Nazi when finally freed or, in Frankl’s case, to rewrite a manuscript he had written before internment but had been destroyed.
Frankl and his fellow prisoners had little control over their external lives. Their guards controlled every aspect of their miserable existence. The one area an internee had power over was how he chose to deal with the suffering and deprivation.
Frankl chose to find the deep center of his being and refused to give up or give in. He stated it this way: “Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Being responsible is one of the keys to character. As Frankl noted, “Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for (himself); to his life he can only respond by being responsible.”
We live in a culture that emphasizes freedom and liberty over all other natural rights. Frankl’s response to this American tendency is to balance the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast with a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
I teach mainly international students. What I have found among Asians especially is that one’s responsibilities are stressed more than one’s rights in their nations. Perhaps part of the way to develop character in our children and ourselves is to tone down our demand for our rights and instead ask ourselves how and where we can be more responsible.
To do that, we must be humble. We must be willing to admit we are human and therefore fallible. We must also concede that our strongly held opinions are not always based upon facts.
Consider that the next time you get into a political or religious argument. It is often the case that the more strongly held the belief, the more likely it is to be based upon emotion and not reason. The more dogmatic we are, the more likely we are equally unsure and insecure. Let us work to develop our eulogy persona, because, in the end that persona, based upon character, is what all of us want to be remembered by.