A Criterion of Human Values
Personality is that which makes every individual different from others and by means of which we determine the real worth and station of a human being. Despite the fact that all persons possess common characteristics as well as common reactions particular to the human species and are similar in regard to the social instincts, nevertheless, every one of them possesses certain congenital and acquired qualities and certain particular gifts that distinguish him from the rest of his kind.
Personality does not consist of certain abstract characteristics of a person; rather, it constitutes the totality of an individual on which his identity is based, making him distinct from other individuals. It is a unity comprised of a group of qualities and inner motives. Moreover, only those qualities of a person are considered to be part of his personality which have some degree of permanence.
Although the principles that govern the growth and development of personality apply equally to all, but when these principles are applied to two individuals the results obtained are not the same; when the personalities of the two are compared, the difference and dissimilarity between the two is clearly noticeable.
To be sure, certain observable aspects of personality are susceptible to measurement, but it is not so simple to measure the deeper and inner aspects of personality and the hidden motives and urges of a person.
Some of the qualities play a more important role in the structure of personality than others. These qualities which are of a moral and ethical character are more significant from the viewpoint of personality. In fact, the 'character' of a person is his personality when viewed from the moral angle.
The impact of personality, its character and strength, as well as the acquisition of those qualities which go into the making of a person, play a more profound and fundamental role in the welfare and woes of individuals. This is so because human felicity and misfortune is dependent, more than any external factor, on the level of thinking, intellect, spiritual merits and the inner causes at work within an individual. The differences of social and financial status have no definite and decisive impact on anyone's felicity.
An individual's spiritual foundations and the development of his personality are directly related to his attachment to and evaluation of things. By nature he tries to establish a harmony between his personality and the objects to which he is attached, in order to become attuned to them. His behaviour and conduct are tuned to and in harmony with what he considers to be of greatest worth and value in life. The different hierarchies of values represent different ways of thinking and differences of ethos. Here we have a way of judging the intrinsic worth of every person and a criterion for measuring his personality.
Those who base their success and happiness on materialistic values-both in respect of quality and quantity-directing their endeavours throughout life to the attainment of materialistic objectives, and totally neglect and reject the real values basic to the achievement of true happiness, they in fact shatter their human personality. There are many people who spend all their lives in unceasing pursuit of materialistic values, but are not ready to devote a moment of their time to discovering the invaluable treasure represented by spiritual merits and virtues.
Scholars have different views about the extent to which the problems of personality are related to social psychology. Some of them regard personality to be a product of hereditary and physiological factors. Some others consider personality to be totally a product of social factors. The truth lies somewhere between these two extreme positions.
Family. school and social environment constitute the three most potent factors in laying the foundations of personality and determining the character of a person. Modern psychology gives much importance to the little-understood phenomenon of personality-something that did not receive much attention in the old psychology. Without doubt, social factors play an important direct role in the constitution of personality and many of a man's qualities are those which have been formed by external environment. Few are those who can resist the power and influence of their environment and swim against the current.
Munn, in his work on psychology, says:
We would possess a very different personality if we had been brought up by the Eskimos, the Sioux, the Balinese, or by some other cultural group. Not only would we dress differently, live in a different kind of dwelling, eat different food, use different implements and weapons, speak a different language, and have different social customs, but we would also have a very different conception of the world and of our own place within it. Our egos and our superegos would differ greatly from what they are.
Cultural anthropologists have rightly placed much emphasis upon the "socio-cultural matrix" in which personalities develop. Children reared in the United States, acquire a way of life, and with it, a personality, which an outside observer might well characterise as "typically American." But, even within this cultural matrix, aspects of personality may differ depending upon whether we are reared in the North or the South, the East or the West, whether we are reared in the country, in a city or a town, whether we have grown up in the slums or in the best residential section, whether our early life is spent in a house or an apartment; whether our parents are rich or poor, together or separated, cultured or uncultured, religious or irreligious; whether we go to a standard, substandard or superior school; whether we have, or do not have, close friends; whether they conform, or fail to conform, to the mores of our culture; and so on.
Such socio-cultural influences are focussed upon a child from the moment of birth and they continue to influence him all the days of his life. 1
There are many instinctive activities which can generally be shaped and moulded by environmental conditions. Thus for the development of the creative aspect of these activities, it is necessary to alter and improve before anything else those conditions which can reinforce or weaken these essential activities. Also, from an educational angle and from the viewpoint of influence on habits, the effects of every human action must be properly analysed in order to understand how a certain inclination may be reinforced or checked.
From the viewpoint of laying the foundations of emotional growth and moulding a proper social environment, the years of childhood are the most important formative years. The early training is imparted through parents and other close relatives within the family. Right conduct and speech on the part of the teachers have a decisive impact on determining the pattern of the child's life and in contributing to the development of his personality and the blossoming of his inner capabilities. On the contrary, improper and unprincipled methods of training harm the development of the child's personality and repress his inner capacities. The young seedling that has recently come out of the ground can easily be bent and made to grow in any direction that one wishes. The beauty and grace of the future tree depends on the attention paid to its development during the period when it is still a young plant.
Similarly, the direction of development of personality can be determined in the early years of life and the future personality of the child formed by providing proper conditions and means. Hence it is possible to picture the future personality of a child and the type of his psychological reactions to adverse conditions that he may encounter by studying the conditions of his family and his situation in it.
The cause of the backwardness and stunted growth of an individual or society in life should be sought in the shortcomings of their personality. Today, specialists doing research on personality, in some respects, also pay attention to deeper factors.
The extent of a man's intelligence and problem-solving ability is revealed during critical situations. Those who also pay attention to their inner reactions in their decisions and activities attain a greater sense of self-assurance and independence and acquire a greater confidence in their own personality. As a result they are more efficient and effective than others who pay greater attention to external factors. Exclusive attention to external factors leads one not to pay the due attention to his own self. Thought and carefulness play an effective role in the development of the mind and intelligence and the edification of personality and give additional worth and dignity to one's social visage.
At a time when shallow and superficial people are after the satisfaction of their vain desires and aims, endeavouring to fulfil them by resorting to various kinds of means, the person with higher goals becomes keener in his pursuit of spiritual delights by relying on the power of his intellect. Therefore, those who possess the power of thought and an active intellect and benefit from every opportunity to pursue their worthy and sublime thoughts, are nearer to true happiness in this world.
A calm temperament, optimism, energy and vigour are the most important factors responsible for man's happiness.
A wise man even in a state of isolation can enjoy the sweetest of moments with the means of his thoughts and fancies, whereas the ignorant man, no matter how much he should vary his diversions and undertake enormous expenditures, cannot free himself from the malaise that tortures his body and soul. The optimistic and patient man can in times of penury conduct his life with contentment and forbearance, whereas the greedy man, even if he should possess all the riches in the world, is always downcast and dissatisfied.
The man of vigorous thought and sound intellect refrains from superficial and transitory pleasures, to attain which the people of the world kill themselves.
Socrates that intellectual, once on observing the ornamental stuff that was put on exhibition remarked: "How many numberless things exist in this world of which man has no need." Hence the most important factor effective in the happiness of men is personality. 2
Personality should not be considered as possessing a single dimension or measured with a single criterion and standard. Such a wrong approach is hazardous and leads us away from facts. Many people when confronted with a certain inadequacy or defect neglect the wonderful compensating power of the other dimensions of their personality and equate the inadequacy of one of its dimensions as the defect of the total personality. Such a baseless notion drives them into a debilitating anguish, a condition that may further result in irremediable harms and irreparable dangers.
Many historical crises and much ruthless bloodshed in history have been the outcome of harmful prejudices based on a wrong conception of personality in which a single dimension is made the sole criterion. An unfounded pride inspired by such prejudice has led to many regrettable events in the course of history.
Many people, while possessing certain remarkable abilities, suffer from a deficiency in certain matters. This inadequacy becomes a hindrance in their activity and progress. At times they ascribe their psychological inadequacies to a bad luck, thus holding other factors responsible for their own weakness. As a consequence, they carry the burden of this weakness throughout their lives, whereas with a measure of will and effort they could overcome that inadequacy and strengthen their spiritual values.
As long as you continue to rationalise your own inadequacies and allow ruinous thoughts to occupy your mind, you shall be reinforcing them. Any success in this matter depends directly on the extent one is able to take a serious decision, for the possibilities of developing oneself are unlimited and promise extraordinary results. On the level of ideation, the important point is what kind of person one aspires to become. This reality is revealed with transparent clarity in times of life when one has to make a critical decision, selecting a single course from among the various alternatives that occur to the mind.
There is always an intense conflict going on among the human urges and instincts. each trying to pull us in a direction different from that of another- Thought and reflection resolve this conflict and replace these divergent goals with one integrated objective.
It should be remembered that there does not exist a finished and final personality behind the character, conduct and activities of a person. Rather, it is constituted of non-permanent and complicated habits and behavioural modes that gradually fall into mutual harmony with one another. Whenever there arises a new conflict between the urges, the mind endeavours to establish a kind of balance and equilibrium between them and to bring about a state of truce. For this purpose, it sometimes brings about a compromise between the various urges and thereby obtains at least a temporary state of peace and satisfaction. Just like the physiological mechanisms that automatically come into action for establishing an equilibrium in the body whenever there occurs the smallest amount of disturbance, the mind, too, acts to resolve the complicated inner problems and avert obvious dangers by resorting to the means at its command.
For the purpose of achievement of mental balance and peace in a disturbed and baffled mind, there exist certain ways some of which are reasonable and satisfactory and some others that are irrational as well as harmful.
The psychologists offer the following analysis in this regard:
An effective way of averting danger is to encounter and face mental conflicts and their consequences with utmost candidness and courage and reduce the intensity of this conflict and the pressure of some of the urges, thus bringing about such a reconciliation among them that they can enter the arena of consciousness without causing any trouble.
But often we cannot find an ideal solution for the resolution of these mental conflicts and are forced to take resort in such means as repression, introversion, extroversion, and self-deception.
Sometimes the mental conflicts remain unknown and indistinct, or they do not come to one's attention. In this case, they give rise to a particular kind of behaviour that does not harmonise at all with one's personality and the person concerned has no knowledge of this disharmony. As a result, his consciousness and self-perception get divided into two different streams, none of which is in harmony with the other, making the person appear double-faced and odd to others.
Thoughts, plans and urges are always in a state of conflict and instability in the human mind. Those who have a divided personality privately act in an incredible manner. The politicians who always scream and pretend to defend the working class belong to this group. "We should alleviate the hardships of the toiling class", they proclaim, but as soon as they succeed, they take measures which make the life of workers a thousand times gloomier and more difficult. To this group belong all those who have two different ways of thinking and have two conflicting personalities. 3________________________
1. Munn, Norman Leslie, Psychology: The Fundamentals of Human Adjustment, pp. 258.
2. Schopenhauer, quoted in Afkar-e Schopenhauer, p. 52.
3. Strecker, E. A., Appel. K. E., Wilkerforce, John, Persian trans. Rawanshinasi baraye hameh, p. 209.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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