Making excuses is always easier than taking responsibility for delivering the difference you have decided on.
The Make a Difference Mindset is predicated on your having the guts to deliver.
You are a person of free will. You are not a victim. It is not someone else’s fault. We are talking about character. Character is about growing up. “It’s not my fault” is no longer acceptable.
Nor are other childish behaviours – petulance, loss of temper, ingratitude, refusal to listen, rudeness (lack of consideration for others), arrogance. They all need to be overcome, and transmuted into their opposites – being responsible for your failures, graciousness, selflessness etc.
The capacity to recognise your responsibility and to act with integrity across all areas of your life is rooted in character.
Character is an ongoing choice, which provides the foundation for being effective in making a difference. It is an ongoing choice because as soon as you think your soundness of character is a done deal, some life event comes along and blows you off course.
Financial difficulties, an exasperating family situation, a bullying boss, can all put potentially damaging pressure on your integrity, and your behaviour. Building character is about being in shape to resist and overcome these pressures.
The Four Elements of Character to Master
This is the How to Make a Difference tool kit for developing your character. It is an ongoing process, and will take application to master it:
1. Take Full Responsibility
You must recognise and acknowledge that you, and you alone, are responsible for:
- your purpose
- your values
- your attitudes
- your hopes
- your enthusiasm
- your self-confidence
- your courage
- your energy
- your actions
Don’t expect anyone else to do it for you. Things that life throws at you may seem unfair, and probably are. Forget feeling sorry for yourself. You are in charge of your response to it. You are responsible for your health, happiness, and your fulfilment.
If you’re committed to making a difference, you’re committed. You are not a victim of anything or anyone.
Rewriting your internal scripts may be important. If you are quick to anger, getting a grip on the split second between stimulus and response – the trigger point in a situation that your internal scripting makes you react with instant aggression – is a high priority.
Don’t underestimate how difficult this may be. If you feel part of an oppressed minority, and you have pride in who and what you are, the temptation to stand up for yourself aggressively is immense. The trouble is that in reacting – giving the response the person winding you up is looking for – you are handing power to them.
As soon as you give them the prize they seek – your hurt and anger – they have won. It’s like saying to them, “you don’t like who or what I am. Here’s a stick to beat me with.”
In taking control back, and not responding unthinkingly, you are moving from being a child to being an adult. A child reacts spontaneously to any stimulus, with no regard for, or understanding of, the consequences. An adult has to learn to control short-fused, conditioned responses.
Take a deep breath, master the unthinking response. You’ll soon start feeling good about yourself. Your ongoing choices will confirm your self-esteem and dignity, and will validate your character.
If you’re starting from a low base, don’t worry. Small steps are what it’s about. Control negative responses (like blaming others for something that is plainly your responsibility) just once a day. Build to twice a day, then all day every day.
Then move from not just controlling your temper, but to taking wider responsibility for your actions – and keeping your word at all times.
As you take more responsibility for yourself, you’ll be able to take more responsibility for others.
And that is the first basic step to being more effective at making a difference.
2. Practice being yourself in all situations
Character and persona are different. Character is what goes on inside – integrity, trustworthiness, compassion, inclusion, courage perseverance etc. Persona is what happens on the outside – your coping mechanisms to deal with life on a daily basis, your image, your personality – your doing rather than your being.
When tough decisions have to be made, they tend to come from character. Persona tends to look for popularity, and popularity is an uncertain guide for good decision-making. Both character and persona are important, but character is of overriding importance.
You need to be able to resist the temptation to be the appropriate person to fit the environment.
Chameleon personas cannot be trusted. Giving in to the pressures of the situational ethic (where the situation drives the morality, not unchanging principles) is a short road to perdition, as integrity dissolves and disappears.
Of course, we all tend to be slightly different people in different situations. The role you play as a son or daughter is different from the role you play as a father or mother. Even in these roles it is vital the essential you should remain unchanged.
The danger lies in manipulating your personality to fit a tricky situation. This is where stress can develop. The reason for this is that your subconscious, like your conscience, knows the truth. You can’t kid your subconscious that you’re one person for part of the day, and someone else for the rest.
Try this exercise. Whenever you feel your persona is becoming too accommodating to the situation, and your ethical core is in danger of being compromised, ask yourself the question, “Am I acting from character, or from persona?” Decide now to move towards making character primary, and persona secondary.
Being strong – being yourself – resolves stress. Your deeply held values are validated, and your behaviour can become once more spontaneous and natural.
It is nice to be liked and respected. But it is more important to like and respect yourself. The validation of your authentic self comes from you, and you alone.
3. Listen to your conscience
Conscience is the litmus test for integrity.
Conscience is the feeling in your gut which tells you:
- What is kind and what is unkind
- What is selfless and what is selfish
- What is fair and what is unfair
- What is right and what is wrong
- What is just and what is unjust
- What is helpful and what is hurtful
- What is loving and what is cruel
- What is true and what is false
- What is caring and what is uncaring
Conscience perceives individual behaviour in the context of inter-dependent society. It provides the framework for integrity, service and love – because it recognises the importance of others.
Two reasons it’s so important to Difference Makers:
a) The fundamental principle it reflects – not hurting others or benefiting from their discomfort – is the basis for compassion. It is compassion that drives our desire to make a difference.
b) In listening to our conscience, and responding with compassion, we sometimes discover both our purpose, and a vehicle to fulfil that purpose.
It can take time to reveal and confirm itself, but little by little, as we respond to the promptings of our conscience, we clarify our purpose. Many great charities and movements have started in just such responses of individuals’ consciences to what were perceived to be unacceptable circumstances and situations.
Listening to your conscience, and acting in accordance with what it tells you, is a basic building block of character. It will give you both the initial prompting, and integrity over the long term, to be successful in making a difference.
By definition, making a difference means changing things to a new state. Courage is almost always required to make this happen, because there are vested interests in keeping things the way they are.
Courage comes in many forms – physical, moral, intellectual or spiritual. It is a direct correlation between the amount of fear you feel, and the amount of strength of character you need to summon up to overcome that fear.
People who want to make a difference need courage to overcome difficulties and make things happen. Many of the reasons you need courage are directly involved in developing the other building blocks of character:
- To develop your character on a daily basis – to grow up, and move on from being frozen in childish irresponsibility. To give up the comfort blanket of blaming others, and taking responsibility for your attitudes and behaviour.
- To stand for something – and accepting the risks involved with going against the flow of popular opinion. You can’t just have honour, dignity and self-respect in private. You may have to assert them in public, under adverse circumstances.
- To be responsible for your hope, enthusiasm, self-confidence and energy. Comfort and security are not natural states, so we need to be able to operate effectively when they don’t exist.
There are other powerful reasons you need courage:
- To get out of your comfort zone – often to fight against the great enemy of change – inertia. Making a difference can be inconvenient. Getting out of your comfort zone involves doing things you’d rather not do – like helping someone who is dying, or meeting new people to convince them of the need for change.
- To take charge – many situations where a difference needs to be made require leadership. You may need to step up to the plate and take charge of both people and events. It sounds scary – that’s why it needs courage. Your passion, combined with your courage, will carry you through, and after a short while it will come naturally.
- To cope with rejection – taking risks, initiating change, doing what is right, rather than what is convenient, increases the likelihood of rejection. When people defend the status quo, or their territory, they can get very aggressive in telling you what to do with the difference you want to make.
- To cope with failure – to fail is human, and the bigger the difference you are aiming to make, the bigger the chance of failure at some point in the process. You cannot avoid the sometimes gut-wrenching disappointment, so you need courage to recover faster, and learn your lessons. (“What does not kill me, strengthens me”)
- To hang in for the long term – Some differences don’t happen overnight. Whether you chose to be a Beneficial Presence, nursing someone with a longterm illness, or a Difference Deliverer, pushing for society to change its behaviour, you are in for the long haul. Looking back on it from a later date, it may not look like a very long haul, but at the time it may seem to go on forever. You will need courage to se it through.
- To be willing to stand alone –it may take time for the world to see the rightness, or the benefits, of what you are advocating or doing.
- To take action (or refuse to take action) – either way, doing something, or refusing to do something, is usually fundamental to making a difference. Making things happen requires courage and perseverance.
- To serve– the capacity to serve is the essence of most difference making, and is the mature and courageous response to the situation you find yourself in.
It takes guts not to take the easy way out. The courage to be generous and selfless – put the needs of others above those of yourself – is what defines Difference Deliverers, Difference Drivers, and, of course, Beneficial Presences.
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