In a perfect world, everything goes exactly the way you want it to. There would be no such thing as ‘ups and downs’. Instead, there would just be ‘ups’. Money would probably grow on trees, gas would still be $1.50 for Premium, and politicians would certainly be trustworthy. You might even expect Fox News to report actual news. In such a world, surprises would only occur when circumstances actually exceed your optimistic expectations. It is truly a world of harmony and perfection, except, however, for one little imperfection… It doesn’t exist.
What does exist is reality. Reality is the place where everything doesn’t always turn out the way we want. It is where ‘ups’ are inevitably followed by ‘downs’. Money grows from our bosses’ wallets instead of on trees, gas is actually $4 for Regular, and politicians are about as trustworthy as snakes in the book of Genesis. …and forget about Fox News. Reality is the world we live in. It is full of circumstances that each and every one of us must face in order to survive it. If these circumstances were tests, then our ability to handle them would determine whether we pass or fail; if we survive or crumble under their weight.
“Character is the ability to meet the demands of reality.” – Henry Cloud
Imagine a building in the early stages of construction. There is a concrete foundation already in place, except there are cracks in some areas while others haven’t even dried yet. Nevertheless, construction moves forward. Soon, a tall high-rise begins to take shape. The rate of progress increases as the cracks in the foundation expand under the intensifying weight. Strong winds press against the emerging edifice causing the moist concrete below to contort and shift further into deformity. Yet, floor upon floor this building continues to grow as its looming shadow stretches further into the surrounding locale.
Construction smoothly approaches its final stages. The finishing details are just about complete as the prospect of success seems ever more eminent. Suddenly, there’s a snap; a dull, muffled ‘pop’ that could barely be heard on the first floor. Though muffled and subtle, the sound was accompanied by a jolting vibration that came and went as fast as the noise itself.
Slowly, and then gradually, the building begins to tilt. Another snap, much louder than the first, fills the bottom-most floors with a crisp earsplitting resonance as the sway of the building turns into a violent tremble. What was once a magnificent work of architecture, majestic in stature and laudable in design, was now an unstable public liability teetering on the brink of tragedy. Onlookers watched from afar as the building began to collapse floor by floor, sending clouds of dust and debris raining onto the ground below. In seconds, nothing more than an abysmal haze of dust and silence remained. Shards of glass and steel laid scattered among traces of expensive appliances and high-end electronics. It was a grim reminder of what once was…or rather what could have been.
Those who were involved in the construction were awe-stricken. They murmured and bickered amongst themselves in a struggle to determine what could have possibly gone wrong. Some attributed the disaster to strong winds while others suggested terrorism. No one truly knew the cause of this debacle; no one, except the building inspectors. To them, it was clear. It was not the wind that caused the building to fail, nor was it the culmination of a terrorist plot. In fact, the problem wasn’t external at all. It was an internal problem; the foundation.
Our lives can be a lot like buildings. Life’s circumstances, like the floors of a building, tend to build up one on top of the other. These circumstances vary in nature whereas some are good while others are not so good. Nevertheless, each new ‘floor’ introduces new challenges and responsibilities that we must be able to handle so that our building will remain standing and in tact. This is the fundamental demand of reality, and our ability to meet this demand rests upon our character.
Our character, then, is our foundation; and much like a building, the ultimate condition of our lives depends on the condition of the foundation upon which we build it. The foundation in the illustration above was in poor condition. There were far too many cracks along with areas where the concrete had not yet fully dried. For us, those cracks represent the various flaws in our character; such as impatience, a quick temper, or selfishness. The areas in our foundation that have yet to dry could represent areas where we have yet to mature. A foundation with such deficiencies is a hazard and, thus, requires repair. But when we continue to neglect the condition of our foundation, we place the condition of our own lives at risk.
Repairing character deficiencies sometimes involves the simple practice of doing the very opposite of what that deficiency is – to fix impatience requires us to practice being patient. Other flaws, such as selfishness, may require for us to first be humbled and then develop a compassion for others before we can effectively practice selflessness. And as for those areas where there is a lack of maturity, we must first realize that personal growth does not naturally come with aging. At some point, we must put forth the effort to gain sound wisdom and apply it to our daily lives. It doesn’t come automatically and it often involves the pain of injured pride and ego.
The larger the building, the stronger the foundation must be. This is true in construction as well as in our own lives. In construction, the size of a building and its corresponding foundation is predetermined. In life, however, the building process is different. There is little foreknowledge and the dimensions of the ‘building’ always changes. This means that the foundation must also change in order to handle life as it continually unfolds; introducing one circumstance after another.
“Your life will only progress as far as your character can sustain you.”
In the construction illustration above, the building eventually reached a point where it became too heavy for the flawed foundation to sustain. The cracks began to expand, and the wet areas started to deform. This is what happens in our own lives when circumstances test the condition of our character. The deficiencies in our character are revealed when we are tempted to act immaturely and compromise our integrity. This is our opportunity to respond with honest self-reflection and personal growth in order to build upon and strengthen our character. Otherwise, we risk failure every time we are faced with circumstances that agitate our flaws and immaturity.
Character flaws and immaturity can culminate into failure in a variety of ways. Selfishness and pride, for example, can lead to isolation and damaged relationships with others. Uncontrolled anger can cause irreparable destruction to something or someone, and perhaps even lead to legal consequences. Chronic laziness could lead to chronic unemployment, missed opportunities, and even declining health. Ignorance and childishness, too, can have many of the same consequences as those mentioned above and more. Poor character comes in a variety of flavors, each with the potential to alter the state of our lives in a variety of ways. This includes the ultimately negative impact upon our reputation. The expressions of our character and maturity are witnessed by people around us; and it is by those very expressions that effect how we are perceived and treated.
In a perfect world, life is predictable. It is facile, continually pleasant, and every circumstance would be a reward instead of a test. In the real world, however, life’s circumstances come unexpected. They can be demanding, daunting, and will certainly test your ability to persevere and overcome them. …and to make matters worse, everybody is watching. In this life, your character is strengthened only through integrity and perseverance. If you make the effort, your character will grow. And when your character grows, so will your ability to face the demands of reality.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.