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Character Trait vs. Behavior: Which Defines Us?
In the past few weeks, our class discussions centered on identifying character traits; not our own, that is. When we look for these qualities in others, when we notice them, and acknowledge them, we are sending a message to those individuals that we value, honor and respect them. What a fabulous way to help propel another individual's sense of self and self esteem! And what a remarkable way for us to relate to others!
During these discussions, one of the ideas we focused on was that our behaviors do not define us; it is our character traits that delineate who we are. For example, an angry adolescent who engages in teenage "tantrums" may lose his temper and sound off at his parents. Such behaviors, though, usually are symptoms, typical of the adolescent phase. Whether the teen's needs relate to autonomy, space, or understanding from the adults in his life, adolescents are working (yes, it is their job at this point in their lives) at discovering their identity and where they fit into family, community and the world-at-large. In the final analysis, the teen's behavior is linked to his present phase of life. Therefore we cannot honestly say that his actions define him as a person. And if that is the case, then what, specifically does define him as a person?
Now let's look at character traits.
If we say that our character traits identifies who we are at the core of our being, are we to presume that if we possess a positive character trait (i.e., compassion or passion), then that quality is always going to be viewed within us in a positive light, and that trait (or perhaps additional traits) will define who we are deep down?
This question actually sits right at the center of our class discussions over these past few weeks.
As we explored the character traits and behaviors of Jacob's first three sons, Reuben, Simon and Levi, it became apparent that some of their behaviors were not in sync with that which Jacob would have expected [of them]. Therefore, when it came time for Jacob to bless them before his death, his words to them were that of reprimand. In essence, he was warning them about the extremely powerful qualities they exemplified that manifested themselves in certain specific behaviors. (A parenthetic note: Before his death, Jacob blessed all his sons by pointing to the most powerful quality each son possessed, linking a blessed outcome to that quality. The underpinning of each blessing was that each son must put forth his efforts and be worthy of the blessing in order that the expected outcome would take place as stated in Jacob's blessing.)
When Jacob spoke to his firstborn, Reuben, he pointed to Reuben's haste, comparing his behavior to the manner in which water hastens on its course. He then referred to the specific incident where Reuben demonstrated his haste. This refers to the period after which Jacob's primary wife, Rachel, died, and Jacob placed his bed in the tent of her maidservant, Bilhah. Reuben felt that his mother, Leah (Jacob's secondary wife), had been humiliated and, in protest, rearranged his father's bed by moving it into Leah's tent. The Torah considers this hasty deed tantamount to Reuben lying with Bilhah. (Parenthetic note: The Rabbis explain in Talmud Shabbos 55b, that Reuben's action is a "minor" sin, to be viewed as an error in judgment.)
Jacob then continues to bless his next two sons, Simon and Levi. Interestingly, he presents words of rebuke to both of them, and at the same time. The reason, which is quite logical, is because both of them share the same powerful character trait which Jacob identifies as being potential for danger. That quality, of ongoing counsel to plot and plan, is their strength. And to that end, they utilized this trait in their massacring of the city of Shechem, an incident which Jacob considered to be poor judgment and a move that endangered the entire family.
There is more to discuss on this historical epoch, which I will continue in my next blog . For now, though, consider, if you will, the following. Now that we are aware of the negative aspect of Reuben's character trait of haste, as is stated in the text, does this mean we will be identifying Reuben in a negative light due to the negative character trait he demonstrates?
I welcome your feedback, input and thoughts on this question. You might want to consider stopping in at our class on Tuesday evening at 9:00 p.m. where we will be addressing this question and we will further discuss the title of this blog, Character Trait vs. Behavior: Which Defines Us?
Note: Our next class will take place on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 9:00 pm est.