The Eightfold Path of Good Character
Gary Z McGee, Contributor
“Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” ~Frank Outlaw
A robust character hinges on eight core virtues: courage, curiosity, temperance, humility, liberty, honor, wisdom, and humor. These virtues are vital rungs on the ladder toward achieving wholeness in character.
Courage frees character, curiosity grows character, temperance balances character, humility grounds character, liberty stabilizes character, honor unifies character, wisdom guides character, and humor overcomes character. Let’s break it down.
“Without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” ~Maya Angelou
Courage is the bedrock of human excellence. Before any other virtue can be realized, courage must be self-actualized. There must first come a courageous deviation or there is no “first.” Period. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you live a courage-based lifestyle over a comfort-based lifestyle.
Without the initial leap of courage there is no freedom, no excellence. Without courage, one is merely restricted to the conventional, inhibited by the whims of others, imprisoned inside the box of the status quo, and hampered by outdated reasoning. Without courage, the third eye remains calcified, rigid, blind.
With the leap of courage, however, one is emancipated. The world unlocks. The mind unbolts. The soul unfastens. Inhibitions dissolve, and serendipity, adaptability, and improvisation manifest. Boundaries transform into horizons. Comfort zones stretch into adventure. You split the smoke. You shatter the mirrors. And the glory of the path is revealed.
“If you are not living in awe, you are not paying attention.” ~Rumi
Curiosity is essential. It is the fuel that launches us beyond faith. It is the cure for the disease of certainty.
True curiosity is deep, primal, absorbing, imaginative and ravenous for updated knowledge that has the potential to put outdated knowledge to rest.
Curiosity is the ultimate existential leveling mechanism. It forces our thoughts outside the box, stretches our comfort zone, shatters entrenched mental paradigms, keeps us ahead of the curve, and pushes the envelope of all the things we’ve taken for granted.
Curiosity is on the edge of tomorrow, laughing into the abyss, shirking the tiny-minded perspective of our parochial past, and gaping in astonishment and wild wonder into the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of the Great Mystery.
“The best amount of property to have is that which is enough to keep us from poverty, and which yet is not far removed from it.” ~Seneca
Luckily, health is a benchmark for temperance. It’s the core of universal law. Unluckily, this benchmark is hidden in a ‘language older than words,’ which can sometimes seem impossible to decode. Moderation is Health’s secret decoder ring.
Although some things must be moderated more than others, extremism in anything is the bane of health. We can breathe too much oxygen. We can drink too much water. We can even live too much in the moment. Through moderation we discover health. And through health we are free to practice temperance. We maintain our personal health through moderation so that health in general can manifest. As Gandhi wisely suggested, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
A good rule of thumb, then, is this: moderation in all things, to include moderation. This way we are proactively injecting balance into the cosmos, while at the same time enjoying life. The key is to accept responsibility for the consequences of both our moderate and immoderate choices. Tricky, but that’s where humility comes into play.
“After the ecstasy, the laundry.” ~Jack Kornfield
Research suggests that a healthy dose of humility helps protect against extremism, polarization, and bias. When we are humble, we can admit that we are fallible, imperfect, and uncertain. It gives us the courage to admit when we are wrong.
Without humility we are more likely to fall victim to cognitive dissonance. Without humility we are blinded by faith and stuck in hand-me-down ideologies and outdated traditions. Without humility we are more likely to be clouded by pride. Without humility self-pity outmaneuvers self-empowerment and the Ego reigns supreme as it edges out Soul.
Humility brings us back down to earth. It unravels the roots, uncovers the bones, strikes at the core of the human condition. It reveals the wizard behind the curtain was always us. It forces our head over the edge of the abyss. It exposes our halos as mortal coils. It gets us out of our own way.
That Serbian Proverb said it best, “Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.”
“Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.” ~Frank Herbert
Freedom is not a given. It must be earned. It must be cultivated, practiced, and acted upon daily. The moment freedom is taken for granted is the moment it is lost.
Freedom is always a rebellion. What it rebels against is anything seeking to fetter the progressive and healthy evolution of the human spirit. In the crashing plane of an unfree world, a free human is someone who puts the oxygen mask on themselves first in order to be there for those who are incapable or who are ignorant of the fact that they are not free.
As Jean Piaget said, “We organize our worlds by first organizing ourselves.” And so self-organization (self-discipline) is the first step toward freedom. Liberty, then, is a culmination of earning freedom through self-discipline, and then holding the world accountable.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” ~Abraham Lincoln
The core of honor is self-honesty. We cannot be honorable without self-honesty. Where honesty puts character into perspective, honor unifies character. True honor is being responsible with our power.
Foremost, honor is responsibility. If we are not responsible with our power, then we become a pawn to it. Being a pawn to power is dangerous because power causes us to believe we are always right. When we are responsible with our power, however, we are more likely to admit we could be wrong. And since the fallible and imperfect human condition tends to be wrong about a great many things, it behooves us all to take responsibility with our power so as not to become a pawn to it.
If we lord our power over others, we are being dishonorable. If we use our power to help others flourish, we are being honorable. If we hoard power at the expense of others, we are being dishonorable. If we expiate power to empower others, we are not only being honorable we are being prestigious.
“We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us.” ~Marcel Proust
Wisdom cannot be taught. Knowledge can be taught, skills can be taught, but not wisdom. We can discover wisdom, we can live it through experience, we can dip in and out of it in Flow States, we can do wonders with it with our creative powers thereafter, but we cannot teach it.
Wisdom is likewise just as undefinable. It is mystical, numinous, and transcendent. It can even be foolish, eccentric, and outlandish. There’s a childlike element to it that humbles mastery, just as there’s a maturity to it that towers over naivete.
Most of all wisdom is a heightened state of clarity. It’s a crispness of elevated spirit. It’s a three-eyed owl on a high branch. It’s a profound sense of humor that’s undeterred by the knowledge, experience, and tribulations that birthed it. Most of all, Wisdom has the wherewithal to get out of its own way.
As Lao Tzu wisely stated, “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”
“The individual is more completely revealed in play than in any one other way, and play has a greater shaping power over the character and nature of man than has any one other activity.” ~Luther Gulick
Humor is the only virtue that is transcendent. It sees how character is just that: a character caught within a tragicomedy, strutting itself across an all-too-mortal stage. It sees the character’s feet of clay. But it also sees the character’s wings. It honors both through a laughter born out of levity.
Such levity creates a powerful gravity. The self becomes magnetic. When you are flexible in humor you attract the world to yourself. You’re able to have a soulful laugh at all the ego seriousness. Pettiness falls away from you like water off a duck’s back. You become transcendent, detached, unconquerable.
Having a good sense of humor is the crowning achievement of good character, and the soul is the crown. It’s the golden crown chakra of character, sparking in the eternal night, a beacon of hope in the dark, a beacon of darkness in the blinding light, a symbol of recycled mastery that honors the Great Mystery despite our all too mortal angst.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.