Be Careful of your Character

Last month we began breaking down the fascinating writings of Lau Tzu a mystic philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power). He wrote:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words.

Watch your words, they become your actions.

Watch your actions, they become your habits.

Watch your habits, they become your character.

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Last week we unpacked, “Be careful of your habits,” which you can read here.

Using what we talked about over the last month as a foundation today, I want to delve more deeply into character as a virtue. Being of good character includes the habitual choices we make, which in turn impact the way our lives progress. The paths we take, the people we associate ourselves with, the activities we engage in, all of these small and seemingly inconsequential decisions work together to create our destiny.

When we are careless or inattentive to these daily or in some cases momentary decision points we can quickly and easily loose ourselves. It is in these moments that we are not present and being on autopilot can quickly derail our mastery of self. Failing to pay attention to where we invest our time and energy results in time spent poorly. American author, and Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, writes “The trouble is you think you have time.” And I do this too. I scroll to delay completing an unpleasant task. I know I need to exercise but I fill the time with something else because I don’t feel like it. These aren’t moral choices in the moment but over time and with accumulation it is those small choices that will determine my health, wellbeing, my quality of life. I am sacrificing long term health and wellbeing for momentary or immediate gratification. 

Yet, with this Taoist teaching I am not asked to be perfect. I am not called to know all of the answers or to be fixed. We are only asked to watch, to pay attention, to gradually and slowly improve. We are invited to notice so that our momentary leanings do not become a way of life. We’re opening ourselves to the possibility to make a different choice this time or next. 

Becoming our most authentic selves is not something we do overnight. There is no remedy or medicine or solution that works. Developing our character is the work of a lifetime made up of minuscule choices. We do not have to be perfect. We do not have to have all of the answers. We only need to pay attention to be sure that the path we are walking, the people we travel with, and the destinations we visit help us to grow. Because it is through these choices that we will set our own destiny.