When we hear the word "character," we may associate it with something that is heavy, abstract, or difficult to pin down, an aspiration of our ideals rather than something that is evident in our daily lives. But it is precisely in our routine choices and commonplace activities that our character is constantly being created. Theologian James Wm. McClendon has observed:
"A man's character is formed by the way he sees things, by his vision. It is shaped by the way he does things, by his style. It is coincident with his deepest and most dearly held beliefs, his convictions." In our 1996 bestseller Spiritual Literacy, we wrote about 37 practices — The Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy — which are found in all the world's religions. These can also be seen as character qualities that are essential to a deep, rich, and fulfilling life. Here is the list:
Attention, Beauty, Being Present, Compassion, Connections, Devotion, Enthusiasm, Faith, Forgiveness, Grace, Gratitude, Hope, Hospitality, Imagination, Joy, Justice, Kindness, Listening, Love, Meaning, Nurturing, Openness, Peace, Play, Questing, Reverence, Shadow, Silence, Teachers, Transformation, Unity, Vision, Wonder, X-The Mystery, Yearning, You, and Zeal.
As many of you who come to Spirituality & Practice already know, we have themed all of our reviews of books, films, DVDs, and spoken word audios; articles; blogs; e-courses; teacher profiles; topics; and quotes -- according to which of these spiritual practices the content illustrates. So here at S&P you are feed a continuously refreshed archive of resources to help you improve your character.
These 37 character qualities or life skills serve as a counter to some of the problems, warps, and destructive habits and behaviors in contemporary society: distraction, lack of commitment, greed, entitlement, hatred, disregard for others, cynicism, violence, wastefulness, and fanaticism.
These 37 character qualities serve as enhancements to some of the ideals, hopes, and dreams afoot in contemporary society: simplicity, contentment, self-discipline, reconciliation, equality, serenity, awe, wholeness, wisdom, tolerance, generosity, discernment, purpose, and authenticity. To see how this all fits together, check out the Spiritual Rx Prescription Chart.
Of course, S&P is not the only ones interested in and working on character education. During the last three decades, character education has been applied to the behavior of children in school. For example, Dr. Thomas Lickona has based many of his materials for the classroom on what he calls the "Six Pillars" — ethical values that everyone can agree upon. They are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. We salute this effort and wish it well.
Many also recognize that elderhood is a time to refine one's character through both inner and outer work. In his 1999 book titled The Force of Character and the Lasting Life, James Hillman, psychologist, lecturer, and author of more than 20 books, challenges us to reframe our ideas about aging and the role of character in our culture. His goal is "to restore the ancient link between older age and the uniqueness of character." He wants us to see aging as a laboratory for character formation: "Your face, your habits, your friendships, your peculiarities, . . . Character influences your loves and your children. Character walks you home at night and can keep you long awake." Character is revealed in many of the activities of the last stage of life: life review, harvesting memories, taking on volunteer work, sharing skills with others, savoring many sources of wisdom, and exploring spiritual practices. We have more on these activities in our Elder Spirituality Project.
"Character building begins in our infancy, and continues until death."
— Eleanor Roosevelt
McGee, Margaret D. Sacred Attention: A Spiritual Practice for Finding God in the Moment — A tribute to the importance of attention as a key spiritual practice in everyday spirituality.
Wallace, B. Alan. The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind — A cogent overview by a master of meditation of the Buddhist process of attentional development.
Ferrucci, Piero. Beauty and the Soul: The Extraordinary Power of Everyday Beauty to Heal Your Life — A profound and multidimensional tribute to beauty and its many incarnations, manifestations, and benefits.
Gendler, J. Ruth. Notes on the Need for Beauty: An Intimate Look at an Essential Quality — An enthralling, poetic, and creative meditation on beauty and the important role it plays in our lives.
O'Donohue, John. Beauty: The Invisible Embrace — An imaginative, sweeping and enthusiastic survey of beauty as a spiritual practice.
Cushnir, Raphael. How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment — Spiritual practices to help you stay focused in the moment and savor the riches available to you there.
Johnson, Robert A. and Jerry M. Ruhl. Contentment: A Way to True Happiness — An exploration of that seemingly rare state of being — "being content in the present moment."
Katie, Byron. A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are — A commentary using the Tao Te Ching as a launch pad for musings on being present in our times.
"Talents are best nurtured in solitude. Character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world."
— Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Davis, James Calvin. In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us — How religious communities can spearhead the revival of civility by promoting ethics, respecting differences, and keeping the big picture in mind.
Carter, Stephen L. Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy — A scathing critique of incivility in our culture plus 15 rules to restore this virtue.
Armstrong, Karen. The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions — A solid and substantial case for compassion as a spiritual practice that can save the world.
Barasch, Marc Ian. The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness — A highly readable overview of compassion as the best hope for humanity's survival.
Chodron, Pema. No Time To Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva — Soul-stirring commentaries and spiritual practices on the Buddhist sage Shantideva's instructions about compassion.
The Dalai Lama, His Holiness. How to Expand Love: Widening the Circle of Loving Relationships — Helpful and down-to-earth practices developed over the centuries in Tibet for cultivating love and compassion.
The Dalai Lama, His Holiness. An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life — A timely resource for anyone looking for guidance on the path of compassion.
Feldman, Christina. Compassion: Listening to the Cries of the World — A top-drawer overview of the spiritual practice of compassion.
Fox, Matthew. A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice — How compassion is the source of renewal for our own lives and for the planet.
"Actions, looks, words and step form the alphabet by which you may spell character."
— Johann Kasper Lavater
Lowenthal, Martin and Lar Short. Opening the Heart of Compassion: Transform Suffering Through Buddhist Psychology and Practice — Ways to transform suffering through Buddhist psychology and practice.
Straub, Gail. The Rhythm of Compassion: Caring for Self, Connecting with Society — Stories of individuals who have struggled to maintain balance while nurturing self and caring for the world.
Christakis, Nicholas A. and James H. Fowler. Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — An explanation of how this new medium can transmit positive and desirable outcomes when people tap into their natural reserves of altruism, reciprocity, charity, and pro-social activity.
Holland, Gail Bernice. A Call for Connection — A helpful and hopeful overview of the vision and work of various individuals and organizations in America dedicated to creating a more unified, compassionate society.
"One can acquire everything in solitude
Kidder, Rushworth M. Moral Courage: Taking Action When Your Values Are Put to the Test — A tribute to this quality of mind as essential to principled individuals willing to stand up for what they believe in and to walk the talk of ethics.
Forni, Pier Massimo. Choosing Civilty: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct — A treatise on the importance of kindness, courtesy, and manners in everyday life.
Mercedes, Mary. A Book of Courtesy: The Art of Living with Yourself and Others — A code of conduct based on dignity, thoughtfulness, and kindness that can be used in public and private places.
Keating, Thomas. Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel — An in-depth overview of centering prayer.
Ciaramicoli, Arthur P. and Katherine Ketcham The Power of Empathy: A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-Understanding, and Lasting Love — An examination of the attitudes and actions that contribute to empathy.
"The essential thing is not knowledge but character."
— Joseph Le Conte
Jamison, Kay Redfield. Exuberance: The Passion for Life — A lively and imaginative treatment of exuberance, a cousin to enthusiasm, happiness, and joy that is rarely discussed in psychological literature.
Cox, Harvey. The Future of Faith — A helpful and hopeful overview of church history and the positive dimensions of the Age of the Spirit we are now experiencing.
Levy, Sandra M. Imagination and the Journey of Faith — The case for imagination as a path to God.
Salzberg, Sharon. Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience — A combination of incidents from the author's life with a profound and always creative re-imagining of faith.
Friedman, Philip H. The Forgiveness Solution: The Whole-Body Rx for Finding True Happiness, Abundant Love, and Inner Peace — An impressive and multidimensional collection of exercises and practices to nurture forgiveness in us.
Jampolsky, Gerald G. Forgiveness: The Greatest Healer of All — Wise observations on this essential spiritual practice.
Luskin,Fred. Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness — New techniques for implementing forgiveness.
Miller, D. Patrick. A Little Book of Forgiveness: Challenges and Meditations for Anyone with Something to Forgive — How forgiveness can re-orchestrate our lives if we only let the music begin.
Nerburn, Kent. Calm Surrender: Walking the Path of Forgiveness — A helpful and healing work that sees forgiveness as love put into action.
"Character is a diamond that scratches every
— Cyrus A. Bartol
Post, Stephen G. The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times — A salute to the many benefits of helping others and the challenges of putting others first in a world where competition and "me first" are widespread.
Post, Stephen and Jill Neimark. Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving — A bold and innovative exploration of generous behavior, based on scientific research and psychological insights.
Emmons, Robert A. Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier — An upbeat and enlightening scientific study of the positive and life-enhancing values of gratitude.
Emmons, Robert A. and Joanna Hill. Words of Gratitude: For Mind, Body, and Soul — A handy resource that will spur you on to live a life of unimpeded thankfulness.
Johnson, Addie. A Little Book of Thank Yous: Letters, Notes & Quotes — A celebration of the many different ways in which we can practice gratitude in our everyday lives.
Kralik, John. 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life — A edifying account of a man whose life was transformed by sending kindness and generosity out to the universe every day with thank you notes.
Leddy, Mary Jo. Radical Gratitude — A challenge to Christians to not take things for granted and to live every day with great thanksgiving.
"Nothing of character is really permanent but virtue and personal worth."
— Daniel Webster
Marshall, Jay. Thanking & Blessing — The Sacred Art: Spiritual Vitality through Gratefulness — A presentation of a whole series of spiritual practices growing out of gratitude.
Ryan, M. J. Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gratitude — An inspiring and playful overview of the positive values of the attitude of gratitude.
Ryan, M. J. A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles — A glorious collection of 365 blessings which exercise our spiritual sense of gratitude.
Shelton, Charles M. The Gratitude Factor: Enhancing Your Life through Grateful Living — A rounded and relevant overview of gratitude which enriches love, is a positive experience, and makes us better people.
Wright, Lauren Tyler. Giving — The Sacred Art: Creating a Lifestyle of Generosity — A rich multifaith guidebook on a lifestyle of generosity.
"Character and personal force are the only investments that are worth anything."
— Walt Whitman
Theole, Sue Patton. Growing Hope: Sowing Seeds of Positive Change in Your Life and in the World — A challenge to us to nourish hope as a potent and positive spiritual practice.
Homan, Father David and Lonni Collins Pratt. Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love — A good case for giving hospitality high priority status in these fearful times.
Jarvis, Thea. Every Day Hospitality: Simple Steps to Cultivating a Welcoming Heart — An exploration of the spiritual practice of hospitality as a virtue that involves generosity and unselfishness.
Sawyer, Nanette. Hospitality — The Sacred Art: Discovering the Hidden Spiritual Power of Invitation and Welcome — A presentation of hospitality as a spiritual practice that enriches all aspects of our private and public lives.
Brooks, David. The Road to Character — Introductions to mentors of character and the virtues that contribute to a "Humility Code."
Worthington Jr., Everett L. Humility: The Quiet Virtue — A thought-provoking and soul-stirring assessment of humility as the quiet virtue.
Hall, Kevin. Aspire: Discovering Your Purpose Through the Power of Words — On the new paths of self-discovery available in the meanings of words we use and speak.
Laufer, Joanne and Kenneth S. Lewis. Inspired: Exploring the Role of Faith in the Lives of Extraordinary People — Gifted people on their experiences of inspiration from God in a variety of settings.
"Character is the foundation stone upon which one must build to win respect."
— R.C. Samsel
Carter, Stephen L. Integrity — A sturdy study of the ancient virtue in our private and public lives that salutes ethical discernment and action.
Dyer, Wayne. The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way — Step-by-step instructions for putting intention to work in your life.
Radmacher, Mary Anne. Live With Intention: Rediscovering What We Deeply Know — An exploration of 10 qualities of intentional living through exercises, word games, quotations, and inspirations.
Burnham, Sophy. The Art of Intuition: Cultivating Your Inner Wisdom — New ways to understand the breadth and the depth of this important life skill.
Roth, Gabrielle. Connections: The Five Threads of Intuitive Wisdom — Five passages into intuitive wisdom and a much wider world.
Ellwood, Robert. Finding Deep Joy — Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sufi wisdom on the multidimensional nature of joy.
Hobbes, Carolyn. Joy, No Matter What: Make 3 Simple Choices to Access Your Inner Joy — Three steps that can give us access to the deep, abiding joy that can be ours.
Kast, Verena. Joy, Inspiration, and Hope — A fine book that brims with insights into emotions of elation.
Kelm, Jacqueline. The Joy of Appreciative Living: Your 28-Day Plan to Happiness in 3 Incredibly Easy Steps — A program to bring joy into your life.
Burghardt, Walter J. Justice: A Global Adventure — The Catholic scholar's overview of justice as a spiritual practice.
Coffin, Willian Sloane. Credo — A soul-stirring collection of quotations from this preacher's sermons and unpublished speeches overflowing with passion, imaginative political insights, and prophetic commentary on the most troubling issues of the day.
Goulart, Frances Sheridan. One Good Work at a Time: Simple Things You Can Do to Make a Difference — A wide-ranging and enlightening paperback filled with ideas on igniting your spiritual activism.
"Men best show their character in trifles, when they are not on their guard."
— Arthur Schopenhauer
Ferrucci, Piero. The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life — A rich and rounded exploration of 18 different dimensions of kindness.
Koenig, Harold G. Kindness and Joy: Expressing the Gentle Love — A brief but worthwhile examination of spiritual practice of kindness.
Salzberg, Sharon. The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companion — A warm and salutary guidebook on how to practice kindness.
Salzberg, Sharon. Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness — A rounded and revealing treatment of kindness as an important Buddhist practice.
Shapiro, Rami. The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice — A beautiful and profound book, packed with concrete practices, on lovingkindness in Judaism and other religions.
Thondup, Tulku. The Healing Power of Loving-Kindness: A Guided Buddhist Meditation — A rousing overview of the practice of loving-kindness plus 12 guided meditations on three CDs.
"It is of the little traits that the greatest human character is composed."
— William Winter
Brady, Mark. The Wisdom of Listening — An astute and enlightening collection of essays on the promise, the practice, and the power of listening.
Lindahl, Kay. Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening: A Guide to Enrich Your Relationships and Kindle Your Spiritual Life — A handy resource for polishing your listening skills.
Lindahl, Kay. The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice — A practical and multidimensional understanding of listening as a skill.
Chapman, Gary. Love as a Way of Life: Seven Keys to Transforming Every Aspect of Your Life — How to practice love in everyday life.
Easwaran, Eknath. A More Ardent Fire: From Everyday Love to Love of God — Commentaries on passages from the Bhagavad Gita as the Way of Love.
Keen, Sam. To Love and Be Loved — An exploration of 16 different elements of love from attention to enchantment.
Kingma, Daphne Rose. The Book of Love — A lyrical tribute to the multi-faceted nature of love.
Ryan, M. J. Attitudes of Gratitude in Love: Creating More Joy in Your Relationship — Practical joy enhancers designed to enrich your intimate relationships.
"Character isn't inherited. One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts, thought by thought, action by action."
— Helen Gahagan Douglas
Roy, Denise. Momfulness: Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace — A lively and eclectic group of spiritual practices that mothers and other family members can do at home and elsewhere to help nurture each other.
Easwaran, Eknath. Patience: A Little Book of Inner Strength — A celebration of the riches that can be discovered when we practice patience in all arenas of our lives.
Harned, David Baily. Patience: How We Wait Upon the World — A tribute to this virtue as the calm and uncomplaining endurance of misfortune, the handmaiden of justice, the basis for civil order, and the first work of love.
Ryan, M. J. The Power of Patience: How to Slow the Rush and Enjoy More Happiness, Success, and Peace of Mind Every Day — A handy resource promoting patience as a habit that can be learned and reinforced by motivation, awareness, and practice.
Wheatley, Margaret J. Perseverance — An exploration of the spiritual value and many meanings of perseverance.
"Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life-is the source from which all self-respect springs."
— Joan Didion
Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sara. Respect: An Exploration — A presentation of this many-splendored quality as a virtue that spurs symmetry, empathy, and connection in human relationships.
Woodruff, Paul. Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue — An eloquent and uplifting overview of the ancient virtue of reverence, held in the highest esteem by the ancient Greeks and Chinese.
Hays, Edward. A Book of Wonders: Daily Reflections for Awakened Living — An imaginative, eclectic, and deeply spiritual primer on living a wonder-filled life every day of the year.
Sigrist, Seraphim. Theology of Wonder — A fine primer on the important spiritual practice of wonder.