How Character Transcends Socioeconomic Labels
I’m back from a much needed, long holiday break! Ben and I spent the first half of Christmas in Charleston with part of my family, the second half of Christmas with part of his family in Florida and then we traveled to North Carolina for New Years for a combined family reunion. WHEW. I’m almost glad we are back to the daily grind! As crazy as it was, it nevertheless was really, really wonderful to reconnect with our families over the holidays.
Amidst all the traveling and planning and coordinating, our minds and bodies were not properly cared for and we fell back into some old habits — irritability at the slightest cause, general moodiness and disinterest in making the most of our short time together. At the time I felt guilty for letting myself get cranky and moody — but now I’m thankful because out of that bit of chaos, my family and I discussed something that is sincerely going to change my life.
My sister and I are very close but very different. We often clash over little things if we aren’t careful to hold our tongues in check. We do however have one thing in common — our upbringing and belief in our amazing God who overcomes all boundaries and differences. Without going into too much detail, my families however are very different — different backgrounds, different upbringings and different beliefs. Between grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws, it takes a lot of reconciliation and compromise to get along. It is hard to explain a lifestyle to someone who is narrow-minded, discuss future plans with those who choose to live in the past, even have small talk about politics and citizens’ rights. My mom was ultimately the mastermind behind the questions that led to a discussion of how a person of solid character can transcend socioeconomic labels. I want to discuss them in two parts and hopefully you can relate and bring your own answers to the table of reconciliation.
Question #1: How do I transcend the differences of birth, economics, beliefs and racial divides?
There was a light bulb moment when my mom, my sister and I realized that some people won’t change their beliefs just because you present a new idea to them. Some people are raised a certain way, taught to behave a certain way, and live a certain way that deters any change in habit or behavior.
When I faced that difference in belief over the holidays, I realized that I had A LOT of work to do on myself. My first instinct when encountering stubbornness in others is to react with more stubbornness and anger (this is why I didn’t go into politics, despite gaining my bachelor’s degree in politics science…). For example, my sister and I bicker and clash over things to the point where we can’t even talk without being ugly to each other. We both have a stubborn streak filled with a bit of pride. Neither of us has learned to overcome that side of ourselves, but my sweet mamma pointed us in the right direction with this verse (in two versions):
“A woman of gentle grace gets respect, but men of rough violence grab for loot.” -Proverbs 11:16, The Message version
“A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth.” -Proverbs 11:16, NIV version
In my mamma’s succinct words, character transcends socioeconomic labels. So how do we develop a character that overcomes the differences between ourselves and others? Here are nine qualities that we believe are important in influencing character:
1. Quietness: We don’t mean meek or weak — instead, be mild, calm and able to see, hear and understand without conflict. My riding instructor used to compliment me on my “quiet confidence” — a quality that enabled me to reach a wild youngster of a horse and gain his trust and friendship.
2. Softness: This is particularly in regards to the way we speak — instead of speaking in harsh and degrading tones, speak with warmth and softness.
3. Kindness: this is a no-brainer, but kindness is quite clearly an important factor in having a character that transcend socioeconomic differences. Treat others like you want to be treated!
4. Patience: a golden virtue! — And also one that consistently eludes me. My husband is the epitome of patience, as is my father. I may spend a lifetime practicing patience, but it will be well worth it.
5. Grace: Only God’s grace is sufficient and it will take His grace to transcend the biggest differences between you and a loved one. I pray every day that He would give me grace for myself as well as for others.
6. Love: Loving ourselves and being confident in what we believe in will go a long way towards helping us love others. By loving ourselves, we give ourselves an example of how to treat others.
7. Solidarity: having a community of like-minded people will only help you cultivate a character of worth. I find it necessary to continually seek guidance and time spent with my family and friends who do have the same mindset as me. It further ground me in what I believe in and gives me a break from the crazy world we live in.
8. Boundaries: As contradictory as it may sound at first, sometimes putting certain boundaries in place are necessary to help overcome other boundaries. Set up the boundaries that make you feel safe and help maintain your character.
9. Clairvoyance/Perceptions: we need to see the bigger picture and not get hung up on one idea or belief. I couldn’t decide between “clairvoyance” and “perception” because I think both are necessary to get the entire idea across: when I say clairvoyance, I don’t mean the mystical definition. Instead, I purely mean being able to sense and foresee things beyond ourselves. Likewise, when I say perception, I mean having the capacity for comprehension, an awareness and intuitive mind that sees all the possibilities, not just the one detail that sticks out like a sore thumb.
With these nine in mind, we can build a character that is both worthy and admirable — for our sakes as well as our future generation’s sakes. One thing I said to my mom is this: “I don’t want to be a stuffy old lady who can’t see the other side of an argument” — So guess what? I’m not going to be that old lady! I’m (first) going to be a graceful, kind young woman who is building her character so that when I do become an old lady, my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids can exemplify my behavior and state of mind.
Questions #2: What are my triggers?
While working on those nine qualities, it is important to identify triggers that make us irritable, moody, angry or distant. We all have a trigger (or a few) that set us off. The question of “what are they” is something that I think evolves over time — I have conquered certain triggers and have also opened the door to others, so it is important to be vigilant in guarding our hearts and minds from the temptation of [fill in the blank] .
One way to identify triggers is to take some time to reflect in a journal. Chances are you already have a pretty good idea of what your triggers are and all you need is some quiet time to put them down on paper. If you really have no idea, ask your friends and family — especially siblings and significant others (because they know all the right buttons to push!). Make sure they know you are having a candid discussion with them on how to improve your character so you can get some solid feedback.
Once you identify your triggers it is then a matter of habitually reforming your reactions to those triggers. It will take time! My family and I are excited to undergo this journey of character-building. I am most excited to be the daughter, sister, wife, friend and eventual mother that exudes love, kindness, patience, softness, solidarity, clairvoyance, quietness, grace AND knows where the boundaries are. That is one heck of a woman!
Originally published at www.elizabethlandrum.com.