Is character destiny?
By Charles Knighton | Wed, October 17, 2012 - 12:01 AM()
I have noticed of late the extra effort by the staff of Dodds to sensitize the public to the necessity of providing a second chance to offenders who have completed their incarceration.
It makes little sense to provide programmes of rehabilitation to reintegrate released prisoners back into society if opportunities are withheld. Apparently, many of the public regard those who have served time in prison not as individuals who displayed lapses in judgement, but instead as people with flawed characters.
A recent contributor to a radio call-in programme described inmates as “prisoners of their own character, destined for Dodds”. I was led to ponder whether character is destiny, and whether the caller realized how richly ambiguous her statement was.
It points to a practical truth: real life is not a clockwork mechanism, but a fluid, complex, dynamic system. We are parts of this system, so it doesn’t help to think of ourselves as absolute slaves or masters of it. A second ambiguity in her statement concerned “character”, often taken to be synonymous with “personality”. Whereas we tend to think of personality non-judgementally, as a set of reasonably settled traits, we often put character in a moral dimension.
If we think of this as being the product of a kind of destiny, we risk stripping away all sense of responsibility. If the good and the bad are just made that way, what’s the point of praise or blame?
However, even if you believe personality is relatively fixed, there is no reason to think moral character must also be. An impulsive person may be more vulnerable to crimes of passion, for example, but that does not mean he has no control over his actions.
If we think of character as shaping destiny, and character is something we can in turn shape for ourselves, then we can see how by cultivating good character we have a real effect on the quality of our future choices and relationships.
The inmates and rehabilitation personnel at Dodds have worked to build individual character, which to me means taking responsibility for their own lives. They should be allowed every opportunity to do so.
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