Character Unfoldment

In studying character, it is important to bear in mind the great difference between the mental powers of infancy, childhood, early adulthood, and maturity. Ripened character grows from the experience of years and does not come over night. An understanding of the manner in which character unfolds will teach you how to deal with people of different ages and of different stages of development.

First there is the baby. When he is born into the world, he has a blank mind. Every impression made on that mind will be the result of personal experience of the infant. His character will depend on his environment, just as the impressions on a phonograph record depend on the sound waves to which it is subjected.

Heredity and Environment Unfold Character

True, of course, that the infant inherits potentialities in his brain -- faculties which come from his ancestors -- but all he will really know of the world about him will be gained through personal experience. His inherited potentialities will flourish and ripen or wither and die, according to his environment. Heredity governs a human's reaction to his environment, but environment molds the development of the inherited tendencies.

So we see that heredity and environment both play their parts in the unfoldment of character. Each influences the other, and neither is all-powerful. The relative development arising from the relationship of environment and heredity is an important thing to study in analyzing character.

No two characters develop in just the same way or at just the same speed. Age in years may mean much or it may mean little. A man of forty may have less maturity of character than another at twenty. Some people never grow up mentally. They remain throughout life dependent on the thoughts, guidance, and protection of others. Other people are surprisingly mature at adolescence.

Necessity Develops Character

Necessity is what brings out the best in man. The need for solving the mysteries and overcoming the obstacles of life tends to make a rich, well developed mentality. Responsibility evokes our highest qualities. It is, therefore, every man's duty to himself to assume responsibility and thereby make himself a master.

The child who is indulged in everything and is surrounded with every comfort, who is pampered and catered to instead of being required to earn what he gets, is cruelly handicapped by his well-meaning parents. He comes to rely entirely on fortunate circumstances and not on himself. Life looks so easy to him but he has power only as others will respond to him. Caught in an emergency where he can save himself only by independent thought and action, he is lost.

Stages of Unfoldment

1 - In infancy and early childhood, we were interested chiefly in getting enough to eat and drink, in having plenty of sleep, and in amusement and play. We let our parents assume the responsibility of protection. Our future life was a fairyland of glittering possibilities. Our imagination had free reign, and nothing seemed impossible.

2 - Then, for most of us, came a time when stubborn facts stared us in the face. We ran against stone walls wherein there were no hidden doors that yielded to magic words. We found that the walls of real life had to be surmounted or battered down if we were to get past the barriers. Then if we were weak, we yelled for help or else sat down and wept. But if we were wise, we began to prepare ourselves for the fight.

When man realizes that outside aid is not always dependable and that he must rely primarily on his own resources if he is going to succeed, he begins to profit by experience. He begins to defend himself and to act according to his knowledge of realities. He has been misled by second-hand information. Now he wants facts. He looks for a solid foundation on which to place his foot.

Caution becomes one of his great defenses. He used to believe in everything and everybody, but his so-called authorities have led him astray so often that now he is a Doubting Thomas. He looks on the dark side of things and believes that nothing is good until its virtue is abundantly proved in a tangible way. He demands material proof.

In his impressionable days, he judged by appearances and he followed the crowd. But now he has learned to look beneath the surface. Having been disillusioned, he becomes indifferent to the opinions of others and realizes that for his own protection his greatest need is power.

3 - The next stage for us comes now. After having withdrawn into a shell for a time, it dawns upon us that we have not solved the great mystery of life. We are avoiding the bad but also missing the good. So we start reasoning -- seeking the whys and wherefores. We go out in search for the truth, and then we realize that nothing is wholly good or wholly bad. We begin to sift the wheat from the chaff so that we may use that which is worth while and discard that which is not.

Here we have the evolutionist. He has become the creator, the planner, the inventor, the reconstructionist, who abandons the old as soon as he can devise something better to take its place. He finds that his ideals are growing steadily higher, but no matter how fast he climbs, his ideals are still beyond his reach. He is striving for perfection. He realizes that there is something higher than physical comfort or the power of force -- it is wisdom.

Every past experience has been a stepping stone to truth. And the more he learns, the more he realizes the infinity of what is still to be learned. As he grows in wisdom, he grows in humility. The narrower a man's circle of vision is,

the greater he thinks himself. As the circle widens, his perspective changes. This man's vision has become so broad that he sees himself as only a tiny atom in God's great cosmic plan. He is getting close to the answer of life's riddle. He is on the threshold of true greatness.

4 - He has worshiped in turn at the altars of love, force, and wisdom as he climbed the mountain of life. Now he is near the crest and he turns and looks down on the valley below. Most of his companions are still judging by appearances and following the crowd in their first stage of development. Some are hidden and afraid to come out and some are ruling by force in their second stage of development. And a few are still striving for knowledge in their third stage of development.

Now he is the master — at the highest stage of development. Suddenly he hears a wild cry for help from the multitudes in the valley below. They are caught in a crisis which they cannot understand and from which they see no escape. They need a leader, and there is none amongst them who can lead. From his high point of vantage, he sees in a flash what must be done and he jumps into the emergency, leading the multitude with the combined love, force, and wisdom of a master.

The great men of history did not just "happen." Every one of them had lived, learned, and suffered. Every one of them went through, in one way or another, the stages just described until he reached the summit and was prepared for the great emergency.

These four statements sum up the stages of Character Unfoldment: First he didn't know, and he didn't know that he didn't know. Then he didn't know, but he knew that he didn't know. Later he knew, but he didn't know that he knew.

At last, he knew, and he knew that he knew.

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