Life and Character

Cosmopolitan Magazine

Feb. 1907, XLII No. 4, p. 357

By Benjamin Decasseres

CHARACTER is attitude. How do you look at a thing? How do you feel toward a thing? How does a thing affect you? What is the difference between your way of feeling and thinking about the things you come in contact with and anybody else’s? That difference is your character.

The difference between some few men that we know and ourselves we recognize as unbridgeable. Between a great genius and the ordinary plodder along the beaten track there is a distance greater than the difference in space between two fixed stars. The spaces in the heavens are not irreconcilable; there is only difference of degree. But that gigantic spurt of character which we call genius and the characterless man who lives like the ox are everlastingly irreconcilable; here there is a difference, not of degree, but of kind.

All character is unique. There are no two men or faces alike in the world. All men are variations from a common root. Some never get very far from the root; others climb so far away from it that they flower near the heavens.

Each man’s character is designed for a certain kind of work. No one else can achieve that work; it must be done by that special character. There are no accidents in nature. A man is born to be what he desires to be. Until he can fit his character into his work, he will not be happy.

Character is angular; it antagonizes; it bristles with opposition. The greater the man the greater the number of his enemies. We admire him, fear him, enter into combat with him—and still admire him, secretly, if he defeats us.

Some men are mere pots of mush. They agree with everybody. They are influenced by the state of the weather. They hang like stray straws onto the coat-tails of things. They are as characterless as a piece of dough. They are never differentiated from their surroundings; they cling like lichens, and are parasites on the thoughts and acts of other men. They move with the precision of cash-registers. They develop with the symmetrical regularity of a paper doll in the hands of a child.

It is better to have a wrong opinion about everything than to have no opinions on anything. Opinions are of no value, in the long run; but that virility of thought and sinew that generates strong opinions is worth everything to the world and to the individual.

If you are “different” from others, thank you stars. A people that travels in herds can never progress. Character is life, variety; absence of character is death, monotony.