Depth of Character

You’ve heard me talk about inner strength a lot over the years. This is because I see it as:

  • the foundation for serenity, power and freedom,
  • the source of feeling good about ourselves and getting along well with others
  • the basis for having a solid sense of belonging and purpose in life.


With so much emphasis on finding happiness these days, it is important to realize that this is not the end goal. Underneath the search for happiness is the soul’s intent to establish inner strength, also known as depth of character.

In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks discusses two disparate and sometimes conflicting aspects of our nature. Citing references to the two accounts of Adam in the book of Genesis, he describes the two forces within us that are at odds with each other, especially in today’s world. Brooks refers to them as Adam 1 and Adam 2. I call them our Human Being and our Spirit (or Soul) Being.

Adam 1, the Human Being, is the resume-building, externally-focused aspect that wants to accumulate, create, produce, and discover things. That part of us feels compelled to achieve status, gain attention and approval, and compete and win, sometimes at all cost. It can be prideful and self-centered, and it easily succumbs to weakness of character.

Adam 2, the Spirit Being, is driven by the urge to embody moral qualities, develop depth of character, experience inner peace, and not only do good but be good. Brooks says, “Adam 2 wants to love intimately, to sacrifice self in the service to others, to live in obedience to some transcendent truth, to have a cohesive inner soul that honors creation and one’s own possibilities. While Adam 1 wants to conquer the world, Adam 2 wants to obey a calling to serve the world.”

Our innate connection with the Adam 2 part of ourselves is obvious when you know what to look for. Notice all the videos, Facebook posts, and news stories that show heroic deeds and compassionate actions. We are moved by seeing that strength in ourselves and others. Notice also how often we say that having gone through difficult circumstances is “character-building.”

My question, then, is this: Why wait for a catastrophe to happen to bring forth our Spirit Being? Why not live it every day?

Example 1: From meek to mighty

I once counseled a woman who was learning to stand up for herself, build self-confidence, and set appropriate boundaries. As the new manager of a department in a large corporation, she had inherited an employee who was chronically late, uncooperative, and unproductive, and he had gotten away with this behavior for a long time. Her heroic moment came when, pushing past her habit of avoiding conflict and worrying about hurting another’s feelings, she accomplished what other managers had been unable or unwilling to do: she raised the issue with HR and the employee, and put him on an improvement plan. Ultimately the employee chose not to change and thus got himself fired. My client, on the other hand, achieved an inner strength and new level of confidence she had not experienced before.

This wasn’t on TV or Facebook, and she didn’t win an award at work for doing her job, but that does not matter because Adam 2, the Soul Self, is not motivated by outer reward, only inner. In our own lives, these everyday acts of heroism alter the course of our destiny.

Example 2: The caring couple

Creating a great relationship with a significant other is one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences one can have. Inevitably, problems arise, feelings get hurt, tempers flair. We experience disappointment, frustration, upset, and betrayal. In working with many couples, I have witnessed first-hand the power of the Spirit Self. Forgiveness, willingness to change for the sake of a better relationship, letting go of anger and resentment … these are powerful acts of compassion, courage, and character that create the loving intimacy we so deeply desire.

There are many aspects to developing a depth of character, and everyday life experiences give us the opportunity to apply ourselves to that very thing. However, when we neglect our Spirit Being, we tend to stay stuck and are vulnerable to the negative aspects of our humanness. At our best — and the ultimate goal — is for Adam 1 and Adam 2 to be in partnership, with our Soul Self as the driving principle behind our actions, and the human self making it happen.