“Character is largely a matter of the establishment of Habits. ‘And what is the best way to establish habits?’ Becomes our next question. The answer of the Yogi is: ‘Establish a mental image, and then build your Habit around it.’ And in that sentence he has condensed a whole system.
“Everything we see having a form is built around a mental image—either the mental image of some man, some animal, or of the Absolute. This is the rule of the universe, and in the matter of character building we but follow a well established rule. When we wish to build a house, we first think of ‘house’ in a general way. … Then we go into details. Then we consult an architect, and he makes us a plan, which is his mental image, suggested by our mental image. … Make your picture clear and distinct, and fasten it in your mind. Then began to build around it.” ~William Walker Atkinson
Character and Habits
I’m not sure we can say that character building is simply a matter of establishing habits. Perhaps we can say that character building is a matter of intentionally forming good habits, but not habits in general.
Some people form good habits, but without intending to do so. It may have been pushed on them by their parents, teachers, or community. While this does create a person of good character, it is probably not strong character. By that, I mean that a person who has good habits that were forced upon him, rather than by his choice, is often easily convinced to change those habits.
Other people form habits, both intentional and unintentional, that are not good at all. An infant, not understanding the concept of life, will often catch and kill insects. Adults generally allow this. Later, when the child starts killing small animals, the parents may wish to stop it, but it may be too late. The habit has been established. Other may not develop such bad habits until they are somewhat older. In a sense, this is still development of character. Rotten character, which is not what is intended. Like a spoiled brat dictator and a spoiled brat president calling each other names like small children. In public! And thinking such behavior is acceptable! Character, yes, but rotten character. More characters than character.
So I think when Atkinson talks about developing character by developing habits, we can reword that by saying “developing character by the intentional development of good habits.” And there is also a difference between good character on the physical level, and having good spiritual character. Continue reading “Spiritual Character and Good Habits”