Character and its Returning Importance for our Times and the Future.

It is perhaps a cliché to remind ourselves that we live in uncertain and changing times. However, many people sense that the apparent stabilities and certainties of the late 20th Century, however illusory (for example, ongoing growth through capital market mechanisms, hegemony of the West in a range of spheres, relatively stable (if confrontational) political regimes, liberation and performative through information technological advances) have experienced rapid transformation. The presence and operation of ‘character’ too may be in transition, even, in danger of dissolution.

Character, what it is, how it has been formed and the consequences of different aspects of character playing out in varying situations seems to be a perennial feature of human life ranging from long-standing philosophers such as Aristotle and Burke to more contemporary commentators including, by way of example, Sennett.

Character has been a perennial issue for humankind and in some ways, partly due to its longevity as a concept and concern, may seem like a rather old-fashioned term and concept. Nevertheless, in the contemporary context(s), it is timely to centre stage a deeper investigation into the nature and operation of ‘character’ in organizations, institutions, society and public life. At a basic, even simplistic, level of analysis and as a starting point it might be suggested that character can be considered through lenses of, what might be termed, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ character. Here we might begin to list traits which we believe would, or even should, constitute ‘good character, for example, honesty, integrity, decency, consideration for others, reasonableness, generosity etc. ‘Bad’ character (often seen as prima facie juxtaposed to ‘good’ character) potentially encompasses characteristics such as dishonesty, cheating, being disingenuous, selfishness, hubris and so forth.

However, the present discussion considers that there is scope to widen the debate(s). Therein, the rediscovery and reinvention of character for the individual and in public life in the 21st Century can take place. This is likely to embrace a wide range of domains and tropes including: character and morals; character and control; character and the panopticon; character and leadership; character and training and development; character and memory; character and the political; learning about character in and through, fiction; character and faith, character and biography/autobiography; character and spiritual capital, character and organizational ambidexterity; character and context…. there exist myriad avenues to explore which could offer potential solutions and enhancements for society as a whole.

Professor Peter Stokes
Leicester Castle Business School

Comments welcome