The Philosophy of Character
Yesterday, I attended a presentation by philosopher Peimin Ni, who teaches at Grand Valley State University. The topic was Gungfu (we might know it as Kungfu, though there’s more to it than just martial arts) and its application to a certain area of Chinese philosophy.
“Gungfu is the art of living,” he told us. “When a child is small, we give them some rules….in hopes that they will grow up and know when the exception to the rules are, and they can master the art of living themselves.”
It seems like there are so many exceptions to the rules. Walk, don’t run—unless you have to. Never talk to strangers—except we must, all the time, in order to do most anything. Think for yourself, do it on your own—unless it’s genuinely a better idea to defer authority to someone who knows better than you.
In the West, Aristotle taught an art of living, too: the golden mean of all that you do, never too little or too much, all things done in the right amount, at the right time, in the right place. A good person, a practiced person, someone with a good character won’t struggle over doing the right thing, which sometimes seems so arduous and unpleasant, and they will do it with joy because goodness comes easily to those who are good.
So why do we think that it’s important that specific skills come second and good character comes first? Because the world hardly obeys by rules. We are confronted with exceptions and nuances, tricks and illusions, at just about every turn. If you teach someone a specific skill, if you give them a series of maxims and rules, they will follow the rule up until the point it bends and breaks. Throw a new situation at someone who can only play by the rules, and they will play to lose. But someone who does not just know about to do good but who is good (and flexible, and kind, and hard-working) will have goodness and success flow from them.
This is why we are so passionate about our commitment to veteran employment. We believe that these men and women have the character to succeed because of the kind of people they are, not just the things they can do. Skills can be learned later, and some might even argue that a certain kind of character is necessary to learn skills quickly and effectively in the first place. Bring veterans into a corporate atmosphere and allow their characters to reveal themselves.