“The force of character is cumulative.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
While reading his essay Self-Reliance, this quote from Emerson leaped off the page at me.
Character is cumulative.
It’s not what I’ve done yesterday, the day before, or even anything in the last year that showcases my character. Those are merely pieces of a much larger puzzle.
This thought of character being cumulative can be addressed both backward and moving forward.
If I look to my past, everything that I’ve done up to this point represents my character. The man I am has been constructed from every action, thought, and experience I’ve lived through. Everything counts and nothing is wasted. Some pieces matter more than others, but every action is accounted for. There are no throwaway instances; nothing that I can shrink by saying, “Well that only happened that one time. It doesn’t count.” Everything counts. Everything matters.
If I look to the future, I see endless opportunity to improve and build upon my current character. It’s going to take consistent and intentional effort, but it’s a blank canvas of growth. Tomorrow I will have all the character I have now, along with some enhancements of what I’ve done today. A year from now, I will have built even more on top of that.
Imagine if we all spent each day with this notion of cumulative character fixed in our minds. How often would you skip that phone call to your mom? How often would you call in sick, even though you weren’t? How often would you pass up an opportunity to work out for another round of Netflix?
I know I’ve done every single one of those things. I haven’t done them often, but I’m not proud of it being a part of my cumulative portfolio of character.
It’s not like I hadn’t realized that it all adds up over time. Reading Emerson’s made it real to me, and now I can’t shake the feeling. I hope his words have changed your perspective, as well.
Until next time,