Every man’s character has a dual quality to it. One quality is etched into every man’s consciousness from birth, more or less. And this is the quality of reason that Nature herself has endowed us with; it is that which separates us from the unreasoning brutes.
It is a universal quality, in the sense that every man possesses it. From this rational aspect we get our innate sense of justice and fairness. It is also what gives man that special curiosity about the world: it is that which impels him to make inquiries into everything, to investigate everything, and to try to find answers for the riddles of Nature.
Of all the animals, it is only man which is drawn towards fire, rather than away from it. Think about that for a moment. All other animals flee at the sight or sound of fire, often in mortal terror.
But man does not do this. He seeks to capture it, and put it to his own personal use. And this impulse is instilled naturally in us, in all men. It is a unique inheritance, really, from Nature. And this was why the Greeks had to invent myths to explain its special quality: that of Prometheus, the giver of fire. How else do you explain this special character of man?
He was punished for that, you know.
But returning to character: besides this universal character, bestowed by Nature, there is his own individual character. Each man has his own. It is overlaid on top of the Universal Character, spoken about above.
And it is clear that individual characters among men vary with an incredible amplitude of oscillation. Some are good at sports, some run fast, some are slow, some are good swimmers, some are not, some are ugly, and some are handsome.
Some men are stern and serious, while others take their joviality seriously. Some love honesty and truth, and some are always looking for the angles.
It is one of every man’s purposes to find out what his inner character is. This is not an easy task. Self-criticism and self-awareness are extremely difficult; for there is always the danger that we will be too hard or too easy on ourselves.
The only sure way to learn something is to subject ourselves to different experiences and pressures over an extended period of time.
That is, time and experience equal knowledge.
But we should try to hold true to the inclinations of our own personal natures. It does no good to look at the other man, and say, “I wish I was like that.” To try to achieve what is impossible, is folly.
But be sure to hear me clearly on this. I am not saying that one should not strive to improve. I am not saying that one should meekly accept “one’s lot” and do nothing. No. I have always advocated for just the opposite.
What I am saying is that there are such things as propriety and decorum. No one talks about these virtues any more, due to the type of society we live in. But they should talk about them. A person should not behave in a way that is unsuitable to his nature. A person should not act in a way that ill-suits his character.
A mountain lion does not associate with the Persian cat, we can say. He wishes to roar with his own kind.
Propriety and decorum are forms of consistency, as I see it. We must respond consistently to the requirements of our characters.
And, of course, you can’t be consistent in anything if you are always chasing around after others, and trying to imitate their behavior. This is why I said earlier that a man should not try to ape the behavior of someone who has a different character from his own. It is lacking in decorum, and in propriety.
Try to do this too often, and you can harm yourself. You can do violence to your own character. Nothing is more ridiculous, more self-destructive, than the sight of a man mindlessly imitating another. It screams out his lack of solid identity.
You must select things, and do things, that best suit your talents. You must make a realistic assessment of what you are good at, and what you are not. And no man really knows this in a firm way until he is in his 30s. I am told that it is better for actors to pick roles that showcase their talents the best, rather than seek to be in great movies.
You don’t get an unlimited number of chances at things in life. Every man has a certain number of rounds in his personal magazine. And when those are spent, well…they are spent.
Yes, every stage of life carries with it joys and triumphs. But these joys are the results of consistent application of the merits of our personal characters. Consistency. A man can ruin himself by chasing around aimlessly after others, frantically trying to imitate what others say and do.
Last night I finished watching the 2013 Italian film The Great Beauty (Il Grande Bellezza). What a great film this was. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino and set in Rome, it tells the meandering story of a socialite named Jep Gambardella. Jep becomes reflective and melancholy at the advent of his 65th birthday.
As he wanders from one scene to another, he becomes increasingly aware of the tragic brevity of life, and of the fleeting nature of beauty. At one time in his twenties, he had written a great novel that secured his fame. And then he wrote nothing more. Why? He just didn’t.
He had consumed his days chasing illusions, seeking to imitate one person or another. Or seeking to ingratiate himself with one popular crowd or another. Or seeking to throw the most lavish parties. And this was all well and good, while it lasted. He never sought to cultivate his talents, to seek new vistas.
And every party must eventually come to an end.
And when it does, you’d better have something to hold on to, and rely on.
And if you have not spent your years being true to yourself and developing your traits and character, you will be feel as empty and adrift as Jep Gambardella, wandering through Rome, and recalling the Fellini-esque phantoms of a lost youth, musing over the transitory nature of beauty.
We have to make beauty last. We have to will it to last. It is not enough just to desire it.
Only with this forward movement of the soul, can it last. Forward movement, always. Forward movement, unto death itself.
We have two characters. But what we decide to do with them, is up to us.
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