Although I grouse regularly that most of what I read about character is brief and unspecific when it comes to the practice of character development, I also grant that this may be as good as it gets. Perhaps most of the practices are obvious—after all, I’ve figured out a lot of them on my own—and folks only write about the few non-obvious ones. Perhaps the practices are difficult or even impossible to put into words, like the ones that guide us into driving a car well. Or perhaps they are too specific, and can only be stated regarding a particular person in a particular situation. (As a well-known horse trainer once replied when asked how he goes about training a horse, “Which horse?”)
But I grouse because I suspect, at least for some people in some situations, a well-stated bit of wisdom can be of assistance. There are anecdotes and aphorisms I relate over and over again, because for me they encapsulate a bit of wisdom that not only opened my eyes wider but gave me a hand up in tackling a shortcoming I struggled with. So far they live mostly in my mind, but some made it into posts on this blog, and I plan to put more of them down in writing, refining them to a point where they might be a bit of help to someone else.
Here’s a fresh example, though not yet refined. Richard Beck has been sharing anecdotes about the prison Bible study he leads, and this morning he tells of one inmate who regularly performs a small service for the leaders which could also benefit the inmate—and yet the inmate deliberately refrains from taking the benefit. (Please click through to read the anecdote, it’s short and well written.)
This is the sort of practice I want to hear about, not because I expect to find myself in exactly the same situation, but because it shows how an opportunity to build character can be found in a small and mundane act—provided we look, and provided we approach it as such. The same act in the same situation could go wrong in many ways, e.g. it could be used to communicate moral superiority. But done right, it is one small step towards better character. And if that small step becomes the basis of a practice—well, as Seth Godin says, “A small thing, repeated, is not a small thing.”