Post from January 12, 2015 (↻ May 18, 2018), filed under Everything Else.
Character is one of the greatest motive powers in the world. In its noblest embodiments, it exemplifies human nature in its highest forms, for it exhibits man at his best. Men of genuine excellence, in every station of life—men of industry, of integrity, of high principle, of sterling honesty of purpose—command the spontaneous homage of mankind.
The longer I’ve read, the more I’ve thought about the book, the greater has been the joy to explore, in wonderfully elaborate form, the ideal of good character, and similarly, though assuming like you to already possess, the values of honor, duty, or industry, integrity, self-control, and courage.
I’ve generally felt relieved to see parts of my somewhat cracked image of fellow men restored. Smiles writes about a great number of great men and their most exemplary traits and customs, how they led their lives, and what they gave to their people.
I’ve been worried, then, how much our societies have lost sight of character and values. Fueled by superficial education, unprincipled politics, dishonest media, manipulative advertising, structural competition, &c., when was the last time we heard, let alone thought about, indeed, character, but also honor, duty; industry, integrity, self-control, courage!
These ideals, that we’re here dusting off with a book from 1871, are not old-fashioned. They’re not outdated. They’re not irrelevant. I’m at the bottom of the pit with so many of us, rounded up by meaningless distractions, easily tempted to grab for defenses to cover up weaknesses, but those ideas that Smiles shares, that must have influenced a great many great men in the past, are one extra guiding light, and a very welcome one at that.
As always there’s more and I’m sure to share again my own thoughts and observations. Which I say humbly, for you can tell that even studying the human condition there’s still plenty to discover. Or to rediscover. As with character, and values.
I’m reading diligently and there’s certainly a wealth of noteworthy literature. I’m still figuring out whether and how to share the books I find most inspiring—I usually stay silent—but if you’re interested in such recommendations, a few months ago I wrote about half a dozen books I found most excellent until then.
About the Author
Jens Oliver Meiert is a technical lead and author (sum.cumo, W3C, O’Reilly). He loves trying things, including in the realms of philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.
If you have any thoughts or questions (or recommendations) about what he writes, leave a comment or a message.