Discerning the Company You Keep: Personality vs Character
We’ve all known them: People who dazzle us with a warm charm and light-hearted wit, yet when we get to know them, there is no substance, and there is a lack of character that leaves us scratching our head. The opposite is also true: We can meet the blandest most boring personality only to find their character to be nearly impeccable. So let’s talk about discerning the company you keep, and the difference between personality versus character. They are not the same.
Personality stimulates initial interest and attraction toward an individual.
But character provides the substance for a healthy relationship.
Don’t Be Fooled
Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain… (Proverbs 31:30, NIV).
“Charm is deceptive…”, or as the King James says, “Favour is deceitful…”.
The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom and the fools who despise it (see Proverbs 1:7). Of all the books on relationship, Proverbs does a good job of outlining some of the most basic fundamental truths by which we may abide. Wisdom is one of the keys in this whole equation of personality vs. character. I want to talk about that charm that so easily enchants us toward a particular person, and how to avoid being fooled by it. Here’s why: People make new friends by it, fall head-over-heels in love because of it, and make lifelong relationship investments, only to find themselves disappointed later – because for the sake of superficial charm, they neglected to look deeper and give the relationship time to grow. Or worse yet, they ignore red flags that could have saved them great pain for the sake of extending pardon and good will to that individual.
Some people exude a warm and inviting charm that is completely natural. It’s who they are. It’s clean, it’s pure, and it’s genuine. In no way do I want to knock that. Because that is very real. There are genuine people out there. Individuals such as these are a breath of fresh air. But there is another type of charm that people wield as a cunning device for their own purposes and selfish pleasures. They know exactly what to say, how to say it, and what to do to gain your trust. They are manipulative, deceiving, and they are what I call ‘players’. So don’t be fooled.
Learning How to Appropriate Mercy with Sound Judgment
God commands us to love mercy (see Micah 6:8).
Being the gregarious and warmhearted person I am, in times past I have been all too quick to lend my trust to undeserving individuals. Throughout my life I’ve had more than one sad ending. Although I often saw glaring red flags in a person’s character, I neglected them while giving the benefit of the doubt instead. I’ve always believed in erring on the side of mercy. I still do. However, learning how to appropriate that mercy has come by some hard knocks. Through trial and error, and much pain, I’ve learned how to walk in God’s mercy with sound judgment and discretion.
People who do not understand the purpose of mercy, how to appropriate it, or who poorly steward this virtue, can become a prey in their naivete. I have been such a person: naive and preyed upon, used and taken advantage of, taken for granted and thrown away. There is nothing wrong with giving the benefit of the doubt or granting mercy. By all means, we should endeavor to do so. Christ both taught and demonstrated this prolifically. But His mercy was not without just judgment. A couple key principles of godly mercy are:
• Mercy triumphs over judgment (see James 2:13 and 3:17).
• Those who grant mercy will be shown mercy (see Matthew 5:7).
• When judging we are to use righteous judgment (see John 7:24).
These principles alone are motivation enough to walk in mercy. But that doesn’t mean we forego or neglect sound judgment, wisdom, and discretion. Mercy and judgment function interdependently. Sound judgment and wisdom are reserved for the godly and spiritual man (see 1 Corinthians 2:14-15), and God is faithful to grant this to those who seek Him diligently for it (see Proverbs 2:1-9 and James 1:5). Carefully consider: Mercy without just or sound judgment brings perversion. And judgment without mercy brings condemnation. Neither are good. God intends for them to work together, bringing restoration and righteousness.
Therefore, when a person proves themselves to be less than trustworthy in repeating offensive patterns, or when their character is painfully deficient – there needs to be a reckoning. It’s time to ‘come to Jesus’. As the old adage goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” That adage is absolutely true. We need to practice wisdom. However, the difference is that although we can give the benefit of the doubt in a desire to grant mercy, we should also pay close attention to that deep inner witness that is trying to alert us to danger, which we may not always be able to precisely pin. It’s often there, albeit discreet. It often lurks beneath a charming veneer in that individual’s personality, effectually hiding.
We must learn to judge people by their character instead of their personality. Righteous judgment is not based merely on a person’s actions, but their intentions and motivations. It’s easy to see what a person does, but only God sees why they do it (their heart). In the same manner, it’s easy to to be attracted to someone based on their personality. But do yourself a favor and take the time to look deeper before making long-standing commitments. Begin determining your relationships, not by personality alone, but by the consistent character demonstrated. An individual’s character should always outweigh the strength or ‘magnetism’ of their personality.
It is absolutely impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone of poor character.
The inherent charm of someone’s natural personality only lasts so long when it’s not accompanied by godly character. Regardless of an individual’s intentions or how genuine they may be, for this reason alone the charm of someone’s personality can be deceptive. We must take time to evaluate character. Never make an assessment of someone based on your first experience with them, believing it to be an accurate representation of who they really are. Be willing to look deeper and give it time. If they are consistent, you have found a jewel! But if there are inconsistencies and variances, beware.
There are a lot of personality types. Some are much more warm than others, and people like this make friends easily. If their character is Christ-like, then you’ve found a real gem. However, be aware there are some people with glowing personalities out there that are very shallow and empty when it comes to matters of character.
I’m not so dazzled by personality anymore. I take it for what it is. I look for character instead. And personality is by no means an accurate indicator of someone’s character. With all due respect, we need both to get along with people. But for all practical purposes, don’t make rash judgments about anyone based on personality alone.
Give people time to prove themselves.
A Time of Reckoning: Reciprocation & Confrontation
Here, I’d like to talk about two things that are necessary in every healthy relationship: reciprocation and confrontation.
Number One: The first sign of a healthy relationship is reciprocation. I look for this straight away. Reciprocation gives evidence of genuine mutual interest, and when it’s consistent a person becomes invested. It’s also one of the first things that will be glaringly absent when a relationship is on the rocks. If reciprocation is not there, be willing to let go. Something is wrong – so find out why. I don’t give of myself so cheaply. I’m too valuable. I appreciate my worth. And sadly enough, sometimes we don’t even realize what our worth is until we’ve been treated like we’re worthless. I’ve discovered that I cannot afford that, and I’ve also realized the true expense of genuine friendship. I don’t invest in someone who is not willing to reciprocate by investing in me. Quite simply, I’ve learned to measure myself with people until their trust is earned and their character proven.
Don’t give yourself away so cheaply. You’re too precious.
Teach people your worth and value.
Be willing to be just a bit ‘expensive’, if you know what I mean.
My hope is that you can more accurately discern those with whom you enter into a tight yoke of friendship. You can give all of yourself and give your very best, but if that is not being reciprocated, you need to find out why. Do some careful evaluations, lest you suffer unnecessarily. There is a time of reckoning that must come, which is just. If your relationship is one-sided, for pity’s sake, find out why.
Number Two: Don’t be afraid to lovingly and honestly confront an issue that is harmful or even poisonous.
The reason we confront issues in relationships is precisely because we value them.
When we fail to confront issues, we choose by default,
their ill effects upon us and those we love.
Confrontation is critical in maintaining healthy relationships, and sadly, it’s often misunderstood, practiced inappropriately, and therefore avoided. Confrontation, when done properly, is a very rewarding and sure sign of loving commitment. One essential rule of thumb is this: Before confronting another, we must always be willing to take a step back and objectively examine ourselves. Allow the Lord to search you. Our unwillingness to examine ourselves while being quick to judge another is evidence of pride and offense.
Pride and offense will always bring death.
When people are unwilling to confront issues, instead they will often choose to wean themselves from the individual, or abandon the relationship altogether, leaving issues unresolved. But love does not abandon or neglect. Loving confrontation says, “I’m willing to take the time to talk and address this because you are valuable to me.” Never diminish the power of confrontation in a healthy relationship. When issues are ignored and we don’t confront them appropriately, we are showing signs of neglect by allowing unnecessary pain to fester, poisoning the relationship.
Look for humility. Humility is the character virtue that enables us to receive loving confrontation. A humble individual is open to correction because they desire righteousness in themselves and peace with those they love. When an individual resists loving confrontation in becoming defensive, angry, or by demonstrating retaliation, this is evidence of pride. I caution you in confronting such an individual alone. Do what Christ says, and have a witness with you (see Matthew 18:15-35).
The Keys to Proving Character
We are all naturally drawn to personality. It’s the very first thing we encounter when meeting people. But character is different – it must be proven with time afforded in getting to know someone. Therefore, you don’t truly know someone until you’ve proven their character.
So how do we prove character? I will tell you. Here is the wisdom the Lord has taught me, and I’d like to share it with you:
Start listening to people.
Then watch what they do.
This is super simple, but we don’t practice it enough. In fact, sometimes we fail to practice this at all. We don’t really pay attention. We’re rather aloof. Reason being, we become charmed by someone’s glowing personality. They shine. But you will know someone by their words and actions. As Christ has said, out of the heart the mouth speaks (see Matthew 12:34). Start really listening to people. When an individual’s words and actions are congruent and consistent, then that person has proven their character. They do what they say. They keep their word. They have integrity. They don’t make empty promises. They don’t issue sentiments that are not true to their heart, nor do they throw around statements to impress people. They speak truth and they do it with love.
The essence of proven character is
the consistency found in an individual’s words and actions.
On the flip side, when an individual’s words and actions are incongruent and inconsistent, then they cannot be trusted — regardless of how ‘shiny’ their charming personality may be. Don’t be fooled by personality. Character that is sorely lacking reveals a shallow individual. They are full of words and lip-service, but when it’s time to follow-through with action, they’ll fail you, coming up short.
Jesus Christ is the perfect example for all of us regarding the consistency of character revealed in words and actions. He is the plumb line. So this practice of listening and watching people is one simple rule I abide by, and it’s saved me enormous heartache. Here’s the summation of how Christ has personally taught me to do guard my heart:
• I no longer place expectations upon those who cannot fulfill them due to a lack of proven character.
• I no longer make hard fast friendships. I give people time to prove themselves.
• I no longer invest myself cheaply. I take my time.
• I give people time to prove themselves, and invest accordingly with discretion.
• I make no assumptions – ever.
• I never ignore red flags.
• I pay attention to repeated patterns.
• I grant mercy freely, yet I do not neglect righteous judgment or wisdom in doing so.
• I confront when it’s appropriate with the goal of restoration and reconciliation.
• Before I claim to “know” someone, there has to be a mutual trust gained and shared that is not only verbalized, but consistently demonstrated.
• I look for reciprocation and invest wisely. When there is not mutual interest, I let go.
• I practice loving confrontation when necessary.
• I make every effort to remain genuine. I do not issue false sentiments in a vain attempt to cajole, create intimacy or earn trust. And I’m very cautious of those who do.
• Last but not least: Sadly, just because someone is a professed ‘Christian’ does not mean they automatically earn a badge of trust.
Personality vs. Character — know the difference. Learn to distinguish and discern between the two. Because it will make all the difference in your relationships and how deeply you invest yourself. And by all means, hold fiercely to those who have proven themselves to you. Be willing to fight for that individual and your relationship with them. It’s expensive. Never let it go easily.
We treasure those we invest in, and we invest in those we treasure.
But it all starts with being able to discern the company you keep.
For more on relationships and boundaries please see the post: Rubbing Elbows, Linking Arms, and Holding Hands: The Art of Healthy Relationships.
Cheers & Shalom,
Image Credit: PixArc | Pixabay