Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Soul versus Character

This was part of an old discussion I was having with my electronic book club, but I thought it was an interesting idea (after having established "soul" as a non-religious entity) .

Soul versus character:

My soul is a reflection of my values. My character is the culmination of my words and actions.

For example, everyone has made a poor choice and said “now why the hell did I do that?” to themselves at some point after the fact. If you thought about it hard enough, I’m pretty sure you could determine why you had automatized that response. It was through a series of experiences that you had previously determined required that type of response (or lack of experience in the case of newly developed fears). Determine why you feel the way you do, and change your conscious thought to better reflect the reality about that particular thing, and it could help bring about a change in your automatized response over time. A long, long, time if it’s anything like my futile yelling at my children. But I persist in trying to change this undesirable automatized response in myself. In fact, thinking of this screaming monster as part of my soul might help me change it quicker because that’s a downright horrifying thought as that behavior does not reflect my values. I know it is an undesirable part of my character.

Automatized response is not what I would consider part of my soul; the choice to try to change a destructive or inadequate response is. Somehow this still is not enough. Introspection, the desire to learn something about yourself and your behavior is part of your soul, too. Choose, try, introspect, desire, learn are all volitional. Again, my soul is a reflection of my values.

The smell of clay, dancing, James Taylor’s voice, the Star-Spangled banner, laughing with friends, wide open spaces filled with red, orange, and yellow leaves, the feel of warm stones on a cold day, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, cold, crisp days with bright blue skies, Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World, my sleeping children – these all speak to my soul (I value each of them), and my character allows automatized responses to each (sometimes to my embarrassment). They move me, yes, but not without knowing why.

Of course there is something bigger than me out there, but not something I can control, only something I can choose to become part of or to fight against (active response), enjoy or avoid (passive response). I choose each in accordance with my values which define my soul.

If this contradicts anything I’ve said before, so be it. Life is a work in progress, and that’s why I often enjoy these head-exploding discussions. There is no path to enlightenment for a head made of stone.


Stephen Bourque said...

I have two comments to make. First, something bothers me about casting your point as soul versus character. To me, the two concepts are closely related. They may not be exactly the same thing, but they are not opposites or in contention with each other.

I have not given this enough thought to be certain of these definitions, but I think of a soul as the non-material essence of a person - the sum total of his thoughts, memories, and values. I think of one's character as entirely involved with choices and values - perhaps as they are reflected in one's actions.

These definitions bring me to my second comment. I think you stressed automatized actions too much, at the expense of all actions. (Maybe this is nitpicking; it was only a brief post!) More precisely, I think what you really mean by automatized actions are habits, and habits are volitional, however "automatic" they seem. I agree with you that habits, good or bad, make up one's character, but so do difficult choices.

Lynne said...

Hey nitpicker - I was trying to differentiate between the two, not necessarily oppose them. There was an entire conversation that went before this. I decided to put this part on the blog because I thought it might be an interesting idea to people who may not have questioned their own "natures" (souls, values, or essential selves). Identifying self is the first step toward selfishness.