Once you’re clear about what virtues are and which ones you want to cultivate, the next step is to be on the lookout for “character moments,” or everyday opportunities to practice these qualities. You deliberately pay attention to your behavior and establish habits that eventually become second nature. In everyday life, however, most opportunities to build character are modest in scope and easily missed if you’re not paying attention.
It would depend what virtues you as an individual place the highest value on…personally, I am on the lookout for situations in which I can expend a little effort and/or sacrifice a little time, on my part, to benefit the needs or aim of another.
Let me share an example that happened as I was on my way out of the grocery store the other day. As I gathered two bags in hand from my purchases and started walking from the registers over to the elevators that would take me down to the parking garage, I saw a woman with a cart press the call button, and then swing around to validate her ticket at the machines that faced opposite the elevator doors. The elevator arrived as I strolled up to it, but unfortunately for her, she was still at the mercy of the technology & its credit card processing speed. It did not look like she was going to be able to both pay her stub, and catch the ride down to her vehicle that she had hailed.
As this was a chain location I visit with some frequency, I was well aware of how frustrating missing that elevator would be, for they are deathly slow in their ascent/descent. And as she was obviously trying to save time by killing two birds with a single proverbial stone, it would have been that much more frustrating, having known that the opportunity came, and went, and that she had now actually cost herself more time.
It would have been easy enough for me to step inside the elevator and simply let the doors close — she was obviously not going to make it in time, and nor was anyone else waiting, so why should I not take advantage? Is my time not also valuable?
Sure it is. Valuable enough to knowingly capitalize on her misfortune? Save for a threatening medical emergency, there would really be no excuse to do so. It would almost be cruel; I would certainly feel guilty. So perhaps this is not the best example of true “sacrifice” on my behalf, but the point remains: I twice stuck my foot in the door to prevent it from closing, until she finally had her receipt in hand and could catch the ride she had hailed for herself and her cart.
Looking hugely relieved and also grateful, she said to me (as we were still the only two people on board), “Oh, wow. That was very nice. You just made my day all better. It was going so bad, but now, it’s better. Thank you.”
I replied humbly, but I must confess: I was, on the inside, quite pleased with myself.
She expressed another sincere gratitude and exited on the floor above mine, and I again humbly bowed my head.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t purposefully take a great heaping chunk of time out of my day, to do something for someone else, because I felt the need for some smug satisfaction. I did it because I was observant, and mindful, and present enough to place someone else’s needs ahead of my own. It is entirely feasible that maybe I put both bags in one hand and was scrolling on my phone with the other, completely oblivious to this woman’s attempt to salvage some part of what she was doing, where she was going…whatever it was. All I did was pay attention to the signals from the world around me.
In turn? I made her day, and felt several pounds lighter going about my own. Who knows why she was having such a bad day? All I know is for that brief moment, that human kindness and consideration gave her a minuscule reprieve from whatever was troubling her.
And as one in recovery, I can certainly attest to the importance of the daily reprieve.