Character vs Personality Ethic

Just because someone has charisma, it doesn’t mean they’ve got character. In his talk “Charisma vs Character”, Justin Epstein explores the difference and what we can do to develop greater character in ourselves.

Full Video Transcript

Stephen Covey, the late Stephen Covey, the author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People… He tells the story of their son (he and his wife’s son… um, Sandra, his wife…)  And they, like you and I, were conditioned by the personality ethic… techniques… Let’s get a quick fix of  things… Have a positive mental attitude… Public relations techniques, and so on… That’s what they were influenced by…  and conditions… and they didn’t even know it.

So, when their son–who was not a very good student…  He couldn’t even read the instructions on a test, let alone do well on the test…  He was a bit immature for his age and would often do and say things that embarrassed his friends, or others…  As an athlete, he was small, skinny and uncoordinated. He would even swing before the pitcher released the ball.  And people would laugh at him.

And the Coveys would defend him, “Why are you laughing at him?  He is learning!”

And whenever he would do something right, they would use positive reinforcement:

“Come on son!  You can do it! You can do it!”

And then, when he did something well, they’d reinforce it with praise… and nothing was happening, except his self-esteem was dropping.  He would come home sometimes, saying, “Well, I don’t like baseball anyway!” They were feeling frustrated and discouraged.

Then, they had a realization.  They realized that they were applying the personality ethic.  They were conditioned. They were more interested in their image of themselves as parents–and how other people thought about them– then they were in their own son’s welfare and well-being.  They were more caught up in that… and so, they were using the personality ethic, trying to get their son to be better, to be more like the other kids, to be more successful, which would make them feel better as parents, would make them look better in the eyes of others.

So, they realized there was a problem with their character.  There was a problem with their motivation. And as they began to realize that, they realized that they were seeing their son… even though they were saying, “You can do it, son!  Come on son! Way to go, son!” The way they saw their son was that he was inadequate. So, no matter how much they said to their son and tried to utilize techniques and encouragement and so on– it was how they were seeing him that made all the difference in the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Who you are shouts so loud in my ears, I can hardly hear what you’re saying.”

It was in looking at their character that determined and changed the lens through which they saw their son.  And when you change the way you see, you change your experience.

So, they went to work on themselves.  They started to think in terms of finding character strengths within themselves — a sense of esteem and value and worth — independent of what other people thought about them as a parent… independent of who their son was doing.  They began to acknowledge what they believed about their son, which was, there was growth potential within him. And he was in his own journey of unfoldment. And what they needed to do is not try to change him but to love and accept him where he was.

And, amazingly, when that happened, his sense… he started to blossom and flourish… not because of external, social recognition or reward, but because he felt good about himself.  He went on to become a straight “A” student. He started to blossom in social relationships. He was.. became elected for different student government positions through the years. He went on to become an all-state athlete.

Why?  Because his parents began to see him differently.  They began to know that he would make it. He didn’t need them to protect him.  He had his own potential and growth that was unfolding in him. And they started to love him and enjoy him and appreciate him more for who he was.  But it took a change in their character. It took looking at their motives — looking at what they were valuing — and making a change. And when they changed their way of being, it changed their way of seeing.