Character Traits and Their Consequences

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Character Traits and Their Consequences

Character traits come with consequences – always – every time. Consult a list of character traits, and you will soon see this. You might think the consequences are always pleasant when we exercise character traits, unpleasant when we fail to exercise such qualities. But is that true? Do we always receive agreeable things in return for doing what is morally right, disagreeable things in return for doing what is wrong? Do character traits carry another possibility?

Character traits all have consequences, but let’s use honesty as our example.

Some studies list the following sentence as one of the most common examples of dishonesty:

“Say I’m not here.”

Many people, from corporate CEOs to children, rely on that lie. Do you?

Imagine you are busy, working with enjoyment on a big project. The telephone rings. Someone answers it, and comes to tell you that it’s Harry. Harry is not known for having strong character traits, and you don’t want to talk to him.

You start to whisper urgently, “Say I’m not here.” Then you think better of it. You decide to be honest. “I’ll take the call,” you say quietly.

The initial consequences of your honesty are anything but pleasant. Harry is a non-stop talker. He’s also a relentless fundraiser. You neither can nor want to donate to his cause. You want to get back to your project, but Harry is not about to take “No” for an answer. Your honesty results in a half-hour assault on your ears and conscience.

Character traits have opposites, of course.

Had you exercised dishonesty, sending Harry the lie that you weren’t there, you might have had pleasant consequences instead. You might have continued to enjoy your project. You might have had a half hour of peaceful quietness. You would not have had to confess that you couldn’t afford to donate to Harry’s cause. On the face of things, it seems that dishonesty had the more pleasant consequences.

That is not the end of the story, however.

Had you sent the lie to the phone, you would have stressed yourself. The reason a lie detector’s needle exhibits such erratic jumps is that lying causes stress. Stress is an unpleasant consequence of dishonesty. In addition, the person you asked to convey the lie would probably not keep your lie a secret. That leak could be a bad consequence. Somewhere along the line, your lie would influence that person or others to lie. Oh, and word would likely get back to Harry, too – one nasty consequence on top of another. One that you might not consider, but that research proves, is this: Dishonest people tend to attract disloyal, evasive, unreliable people into their lives.

There’s even more to the story of character traits.

Your exercise of honesty had pleasant consequences that might not be immediately apparent to others. You felt a sense of peace because you chose the moral high road. You strengthened your moral muscle – especially the honesty muscle. It will be that much easier to exercise honesty the next time. You set a stunning example for the one who answered the phone and called you. You built on a reputation that will make people want to deal with you more. You earned greater trust from those around you.

Research shows additional pleasant consequences.

Among character traits that affect relationships, honesty is one that results in greatly improved bonds. Honesty’s effects include improved physical and mental health, too. Honest people tend to attract trustworthy, truthful, supportive people into their lives.

Am I suggesting that the only reason you should choose to exercise honesty or any other of the character traits is to reap pleasant consequences? I am not. The only reason you need for the exercise of character traits is that it is the right thing to do. Consequences do not make the decision.

Conclusion

There will be consequences to the exercise of all character traits, and you should be cognizant of that fact. You should realize that the consequences might be unpleasant or pleasant. Whichever they are, however, you choose to accept them when you choose to exercise character traits.

 

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