I spend a lot of money at True Value, the local hardware store. I don’t begrudge it; I am known there by both face and name and feel more than just a customer. It’s an inviting, helpful environment and every visit feels
like a win:win situation; I feel welcome, I get what I need in terms of both advice and materials, and they keep my business. It’s one of the many advantages of living in a small, semi-rural community.
True Value occasionally
sends out gift certificates to its customers. Checking out of the store on a recent visit, I mentioned to Marion behind the counter that I had received such a certificate but had left it at home. She immediately gave me the gift (a first aid kit
for the car) and said I could return the certificate on my next visit.
When I returned the next day, certificate in hand, the response of the young lady at the till (it was Marion’s day off) was interesting. She was clearly
surprised, perhaps impressed, which led me to believe that based on previous experiences there had been no expectation that the request would be honored. For me there was no question that I would respond in any other way; the agreement had been
based on mutual trust and respect, qualities that are too important to be taken for granted or abused.
Stephen Covey distinguishes between personality and character. In the first chapter of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective
People he describes the development, in the second half of the last century, of the personality ethic, when the new genre of self-help books stressed appearance, technique and a positive mental attitude. Valuable as these are, they
lack meaning unless they are based on primary principles such as integrity, humility, courage, patience and ‘the Golden Rule.’ Covey says we can get by using the personality ethic to help make favorable first impressions but these secondary
traits have no prolonged worth in long-term relationships. "Eventually, if there is no integrity, the challenges of life will reveal one's true character. As Emerson once said, 'What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.' "
In the 150 years preceding the Second World War, Covey argues, character traits were stressed more than personality traits, and the key to success is to identify and integrate the former back into our daily behaviors and decision making processes.
A 2012 study at the University of Illinois suggested that bees have different personalities, with some showing a stronger willingness to seek adventure than others. The researchers found that thrill-seeking is not limited to humans and other vertebrates.
The brains of honeybees that were more likely than others to seek adventure exhibited distinct patterns of gene activity in molecular pathways known to be associated with thrill-seeking in humans.
Rather than being a highly regimented colony
of interchangeable workers taking on a few specific roles to serve their queen, it now seems that individual honeybees differ in their desire to perform particular tasks and these differences could be due to variability in bees’ personalities. This supports
a 2011 study at Newcastle University that suggests honeybees exhibit pessimism, indicating that insects might have feelings.
And honey bees certainly display character traits such as courage, loyalty, perseverance and patience.
But there is a critical difference of course between honey bees and ourselves. The behavior of the former, as best we know, is entirely the result of their genetic makeup. Bees do not make conscious choices; rather they
respond automatically to the chemical bouquets we call pheromones. We too have a genetic disposition but it is moderated by nurturing, first by others (e.g. our parents) and then by ourselves. Every day we make thousands of conscious choices,
each one dictated by a moral value as expressed in our personality and character.
And that was the lesson of my visit to True Value. In an age that has come to expect no more than personality (saying the right thing is more
important than doing the right thing) I had made a choice based on character (following words with action) and it felt good.