The Struggle Between Character and Personality Thomas Paine once stated, “Character is much easier kept than recovered. ” Even today, the statement rings true. It is better to have character than to not have any ethics at all. Yet, in twenty-first century society, the dividing line between character and personality is unfortunately all too present. It is now more important to possess a strong and loud personality than it is to possess strong character. Especially in men, this lack of character results in a lack of wholeness.
The goal of men is not to attain wisdom and a clear conscience; rather, it is to “look good” and act accordingly. Traditionally, the beauty aisle in a store has been strictly limited to the women’s market; however, in the latter half of the 20th century through today, an increasing emphasis on men’s “beauty” has developed. How a man ought to look and what he ought to use are becoming exceedingly important to both men and women, so much so that character is thrown out the door. Personality and character are supposed to mesh together and coincide.
Lynne Luciano, author of the essay, “Male Body Image in America,” writes: “Character implies self-discipline and a sense of inner direction, whereas personality revolves around the ability to please others—not necessarily through real accomplishment but by winning friends and influencing people” (Luciano 310). Men should have a beautiful blend of the two; however, with the cultural shift, men strive after achieving the perfect personality. In order to attain this personality, men go to drastic measures. Beauty products, cosmetic surgery, and bodybuilding are just a handful of ways in which men reinforce this “personality. Luciano states, “American men spent $3 billion on grooming aids and fragrances in 1997…Sales of exercise equipment and health-club memberships raked in $4 billion…In 1996, the bill for male cosmetic surgery was $500 million” (306). It is both amazing and disturbing that such a huge emphasis has been placed on mere appearance. Because men focus so much on the exterior, what’s inside, i. e. the conscience and character, is put aside. Men cannot be whole without character. The fundamentals by which society was driven differed in the early to mid-twentieth century from today.
In midcentury America, society just did not care about men’s appearance as they aged. Luciano writes, “While women labored at self-beautification, men devoted themselves to more important matters…Any man who overly emphasized his physical appearance risked being accused of vanity” (307). Such was the case with men at the time. However, as American culture shifted from “production” to “consumption,” so did the major views of men’s appearance (309). Advertising began to explain how one must look and how one must feel. Appearance therefore became highly important and open to major criticism: Appearance must be appreciated.
By being overly concerned about the way their bodies look, men can validate their careers and themselves in order to look good. Looking good speaks to how professional and successful one really is. Yet, a component is missing. Life is not all about simple appearance; it is about character. Character depends ultimately on whether one has strong moral ethics. Out of this come virtues such as honesty and integrity. It takes time to build character; it does not come about by playing the role of Cub Scout. Sometimes it takes life’s most troubling times and most grueling trials to truly “build” character.
Lance Armstrong, a seven time Tour de France champion, battled with cancer at the young age of 25. The athlete speaks of his condition in his writing, “Before and After. ” He was given less than a 40 percent chance of surviving the ailment, and he nearly died because of it (Armstrong 345). Armstrong shies away from referring to his accomplishments in order to focus on the person he was “before and after” his bout with cancer. He states, “My illness was humbling and starkly revealing, and it forced me to survey my life with an unforgiving eye…I had to ask myself, ‘If I live, who is it that I intend to be? I found that I had a lot of growing to do as a man” (346). Even before winning a record seven consecutive Tour de Frances, Armstrong was an exceptionally gifted athlete. Born with incredible talent and an amazing ability to “endure more physical stress than most people can,” his career was promising (345). Yet, despite this auspiciously strong exterior, Armstrong speaks of how he lacked character. Armstrong owned a Porsche, a mansion, and a fortune, but missed the most important possession: Character. It was not until his diagnosis of cancer that he began to consider his priorities. He fought cancer and ultimately won.
He went back to his sports car and fortune; however, Armstrong “returned [from cancer] a different person…I saw more beauty and triumph and truth in a single day than I ever did in a bike race” (346). So, it is not about what represents a man’s identity, it is about who that man is. Different trials and experiences shape one’s life, and they serve to aid this difficult-to-achieve wholeness. Armstrong discovered what was missing in his life, and his revelation should be a blueprint by which men live. Sadly, society will still continue to emphasize the exterior and the accomplishments when it comes to defining who a man is.
This personality is not wrong in itself; but when it overlooks character, it is not right. Character needs to rein in personality. It fills a gap and a void that inhibits true wholeness. When focused so much on appearance, men lose sight of their morality. No longer is life about honesty, it is about the exterior. The only way for men to gain wisdom and uprightness is to loosen the grip on personality. Thomas Jefferson spoke to living a whole life: “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the currant. ” So it applies to any man today. Word Count: 986