The Water’s Hot

Is it just me, or has the world – and this is putting it charitably – gotten a bit trickier to live in? There’s no real need to trot out the complicating factors. The headlines scream them at us from our newsfeeds all day long. But aside from the logistical difficulties presented by living in the time of COVID, there are the attending psychosocial challenges of living in a society that is, in some instances, literally tearing itself apart. And it seems like there’s no “opt out” button – your personal values, vocalized or silent, are potential fodder for the opposing view. For those of us who don’t necessarily enjoy conflict, participating in public discourse can feel like an exercise in masochism.

But that doesn’t mean the challenges of living today are for naught.

My mother told me, a long time ago and ever since (much to my sometimes eye-rolling annoyance): “You never know how strong tea is until you put it into hot water.” That is to say that now, where the disagreements have never seemed so stark nor the stakes so high, the strength of your character will be tested. And, perhaps even more significantly, your character will also have the potential to influence people around you, just as the tea imparts its flavor into the water.

I recently read a book called Redefining Possible. Through reflective anecdotes, authors Dustin Hillis and Ron Alford walk through seven strategies they’ve used to reshape the horizon of what you can accomplish. A common thread that runs through it all seems to relate directly to character – both developing and protecting it – because it’s the foundation of what’s possible for everyone.

If this is true, rarely will public declarations serve as some sort of proof of character that influences others around you. It’s quieter than that. It starts with identifying your own values and why they matter to you. That lays the foundation for strong convictions that will keep you accountable to your values. Good, strong character is based on good, strong convictions. And it’s from here that you can determine the how, when, and why of your engagement with a troubled (and troubling) world.

The time you spend consciously attending to the development of your character will pay itself back in dividends. This is because it’s from your character that you will mine clarity, peace, and encouragement, or will learn where to get it (from your faith, from your mentors, or by developing a clear vision that you have for yourself and the world you want to live in). After all, there’s never been a better time to attend to this part of yourself.

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