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27.02.2009 Feature Article

Character is Destiny

Every Ghanaian is familiar with human character, but only few of us challenge the notion that we are powerless over this basic ethical makeup of human beings. Character comes from a Greek verb meaning “to engrave” and its related noun means “mark or distinctive quality”.

Character is who we essentially are as Ghanaians. It is not a superficial lifestyle. Normally, when we say that a Ghanaian has character, we mean that person has good ethical values and integrity to live up to them. These include honour, dignity, hospitality, reliability, trustworthiness and kindness. They also include different sets of virtues like courage, tenacity, remarkably good–looking and, of course, competence. Our fathers of old taught us all these virtues each day.

The attitudes of most Ghanaians today portray a rejection of all these virtues. There is a decline in morality and ethical behaviours among the youth. Compassion, idealism, and justice have become rhetorical and divert us from actually doing what is right. One of the greatest dangers confronting Ghanaians today is the erratic desire of the youth for money no matter the source.

Some people have the notion that character is fully formed and permanently fixed. The implication is that character is essentially a composite of hereditary traits, tendencies and temperaments, and environmentally imposed values and attitudes. Therefore, man has little to do with what he is. That is, character is something that cannot be altered or improved.

Dynamism of Character
Several schools of thought have challenged this fatalistic notion of character in favour of a more dynamic concept. Certainly, there is no doubt that the good and bad habits that become our virtues and vices respectively are strongly influenced by both hereditary and environment. Nobody is destined to be good or bad. Nobody's character is permanently fixed by external circumstances. Good principles, conscience and courage are powerful tools that can change a bad character to good.

People with good principles believe in honour, integrity, duty, compassion, justice and other ethical values.

Conscience is an internalized sense of right and wrong. It is a virtuous inner voice that unceasingly reminds us of our moral obligations and urges us to live up to them. A strong conscience enforces its moral judgments by rewarding good behavior with good feelings of pride and self- esteem, and it imposes penalties for bad behavior in the form of shame and guilt.

There are several Ghanaians who have good principles and vigilant conscience, yet they indulge themselves in drug trafficking and armed robbery. This shows that good principles and vigilant conscience alone are not enough. A third quality of life in the form of moral courage or willpower – something to help us do the right thing even when it is costly, risky or unpleasant, is a powerful force which adds up to good principles and vigilant conscience to change character.

Morality is a set of social rules and norms intended to guide the conduct of man in society. These rules and norms emerge from our beliefs about right and wrong conduct, good and bad character. Morality is a pattern of conduct that is considered worthwhile and cherished by society. It does not only constitute good principles of behavior but also goals of social and individual action that are potent to change bad character into good.

Devalued Principles
Good character promotes human well-being and social harmony. Bad character is detrimental to the well-being of humanity. To promote and sustain the well-being and social harmony of Ghanaians demands some basic principles of life. Integrity produces those principles. When you have integrity, you integrate your whole life around a set of principles which you value. These are honesty, dignity, trustworthiness, compassion, justice and sincerity that produce an inner core of security, guidance, wisdom and power that become a wellspring of strength for every area of your life.

Unfortunately, most Ghanaians have devalued these beautiful principles because of our erratic desire for wealth at any cost to us. In recent years, public discussions about the character of various politicians, business executives and musicians involved in cocaine business, allegations that some public officers who are in positions of trust assisting cocaine dealers and conniving with armed robbers, business executives causing bank officials to lose their jobs because of non-payment of their loans, armed robbery and mobile phone snatching becoming institutionalized, the never- ending barrage of scandals among high- profile leaders and celebrities in Ghana, etc, etc, etc, have dominated the coverage of national media. The attempt made by homosexuals to organize a conference in Ghana shows where we are really heading towards.

One of the greatest tragedies of bad character is what it does to other people – torture, oppression, violence, all forms of immorality, hatred, wars, injustices, intolerance, falsehood, hunger, diseases, tribalism, nepotism, political upheavals that turn people into refugees, etc, etc. I am afraid people today tend to overlook these dimensions of bad character and seek only their selfish desires with disregard to the hurt their actions bring to others.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the profound impact on our national economy of these various dishonest acts that constitute bad character. The destiny of Ghanaians is at stake. The bundle of habits, dispositions and attitudes of Ghanaians are influencing the destiny of our country. Our character today determines our destiny tomorrow.

Our principles are devalued. Our hopes for the future as a nation are shattered. The use of cocaine, heroine, marijuana, the erratic desire for wealth, our bad sexual habits, all constitute a threat to morality in Ghana. We are gradually turning our values into disvalues.

To better understand how powerful character is, it is important to understand its nature and the central place it occupies in our ethics. Possession of good character traits leads people to pursue morally commendable actions and behaviours expected in the context of social morality and it helps the society to develop. According to Professor Kwame Gyekye, “when the character of individuals degenerates, the character, capacity and quality of life of a whole nation are affected: such degeneration leads eventually to the decline and fall of the nation”.

Not Easy To Change
Certainly, it is not easy to change our ways. The erratic desire for wealth, the use of drugs and the rate at which the drugs business is flourishing in Ghana, and the immoral acts of most Ghanaians have made us to form habits of heart and mind that are well entrenched and rooted in durable dispositions and beliefs in the choices we have made. Yet, just as a mountain is constantly being reshaped by weather, our character can be reformed by a new set of choices.

Our human capacity to reason and choose makes the formation of our character an ongoing process. Each day we can decide to be different. Each day we can decide to change our attitudes, re-evaluate and re-rank our values, and exercise a high level of self-control to modify our behaviours.

Character is the cause of our actions but it is also the result of our actions. According to Aristotle, “we are what we repeatedly do”. Therefore, the power to control our actions is the power to control our character, and the power to control our character is the power to control our destiny.

By Andrews Kingsley Doku
The author holds a Masters Degree in Economics and is an Assistant Registrar in the University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa, Ghana

Andrews Kingsley Doku
Andrews Kingsley Doku, © 2009

This author has authored 1 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: AndrewsKingsleyDoku

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