The Persona

A student put a really tough question to me today; it was so good in fact, that it forced me to go door to door of the various online psychology websites, in the hope that I could scrape together some sort of answer. I should say that I’m very happy she spared me any undue embarrassment by asking the question privately, rather than in the middle of class; I can’t imagine how on earth I would have weaselled myself out of that cul-de-sac.

Hi Paddy, I have a question. I can’t find differences between personality and character.

– Mackenzie

In the frenzy of trying to unearth a relatively simple and straightforward explanation for the differences between personality and character- to make a clear distinction between the two in layman’s terms not only for the benefit of Mackenzie, a language learner, but also so that my simple mind could internalise it- I came upon some interesting notions.

Every day is a school day indeed, and so now the question brings me to the desk with pen in hand and a blank canvas staring back at me.

I was quite struck to find that the word personality comes from the Latin word persona, meaning mask. Initially this brought me upon a feeling of unease, as it suggests on the surface at least that personality is a mask, and if it is a mask then by wearing it you are indeed masquerading as someone else. This I’m sure isn’t entirely untrue, I suppose. I mean, don’t we all put forward our more polished aspects so as not to appear, well, unpolished, in the eyes of the broader society. In saying that, authenticity is virtuous, and something we should indeed strive for is to not only find ourselves, but to bring forth the unique aspects of ourselves so that we can continue to develop and grow, and contribute positively with our passionate endeavours.

Credit: John Noonan on Unsplash

To wear a mask out into the world would be to tarnish the integrity of this venture within, and so it pleased me greatly to find that masks were used in Greek and Roman theatre to reveal the identity of the character role being portrayed on stage, and not as a means to hide the identity of the individual behind it, as we would interpret the function of a mask in today’s world.

It can really make you wonder, and it certainly got me to thinking in light of this whole journey inward that I have been embarking upon in recent years, if personality is the mask that we wear, and its function is to reveal one’s identity, then one can’t help but pose the question of how accurate a representation this mask is of who we really are.

And that’s a difficult one too I suppose, because what do we know? I’ve found that it’s a constant journey, that of figuring out more about The Self; who it is we are, and what it is that sets our soul ablaze. A comprehensive undertaking in itself, and an important venture, but then comes the question of how much of who we really are- our authentic self as we perceive it- are we prepared to bring forth and share with the world. Another noodle-scratcher, indeed.

I’ve come to find through my endeavours with the pen in recent years, and through the powerful interviews I’ve been lucky enough to take part in over on What Makes You Tick, that acting in accordance with our inner flame, and being authentic in what we do, is paramount in finding ourselves aligned upon the right path. If you are asking yourself questions as to the nature of the mask you are wearing- that is your personality and the unique set of traits that make up who you are- then you are indeed asking the right questions.

So keeping in mind Mackenzie’s question, where does character come in? According to Dr. David Keirsey, the American psychologist, character together with temperament, make up the two components that form our personality. “Character is a configuration of habits, while temperament is a configuration of inclinations. Character is disposition, temperament pre-disposition. Thus, for example, foxes are predisposed- born- to raid hen houses, beavers to dam up streams, dolphins to affiliate in close-knit schools, and owls to hunt alone in the dark.”

So it can be said that temperament is innate- a set of traits that we are born with. Character is developed through our experiences and our interactions with our environment; our character is made up of our morals and our beliefs. Our character dictates how we react in certain situations, particularly while under stress, and it can influence our decision making.

Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

You often hear the phrase that people can’t change, but this isn’t necessarily true. Our character is malleable, and although it is incredibly- incredibly– difficult to develop it, it can be done; sport is a good example of an outlet that builds character, so too, the military. But I can’t speak to the latter.

So yes, we can develop our character. And it’s a good thing too, because I don’t like to entertain the notion that people don’t have the capacity to change. We all have our insufficiencies, some parts of ourselves that perhaps we’re not particularly proud of, some of which might be stuck somewhere in the past- still stumbling mindlessly and promiscuously through the stupor; perhaps we are trying desperately to rid ourselves of that dark aspect of our character, as it were. We all have flaws, aspects of our character that we could place under the microscope, and look to improve upon. And of course, perhaps the mask that we are wearing doesn’t accurately represent the identity of the lead character in our story: You, that is, whoever that may be.

All of which are avenues that can and should indeed be explored in the journey towards inner growth.

And so I’m not quite sure if I was able to answer the initial question sufficiently and in a manner that was comprehendible, and if not I do apologize; I don’t know if I’m any closer to an answer myself, for that matter. It’s an interesting concept for sure, and the deeper you excavate the more complicated it becomes, and so I’ll certainly continue digging.

But to ask the question is a wonderful start, indeed it’s an important part of the process of self-exploration, and I’m certainly glad that the question was asked of me, after class and not during, of course.