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The 4 Hour Ethos: A Guide to Meta-learning

On Character

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Character” is an important concept for me. I believe one of the things that makes life worth living is the interaction with people who have character, and the enhancement of one’s own character.

Some people use the phrase “he’s a bit of a character” to imply eccentricity or social awkwardness. That is not what I am talking about.

Generally, character is regarded as the sum of “who you are”. That is not what I’m talking about (though it is related).

Character is a demonstration of value that is not contrived, and is the result of noteworthy discipline, courage, honour, integrity or taste.


Character can come in huge gestures which claim life, or the tiniest remarks and behaviours. Character can be self-interested, it is not the same as altruism. Character is fundamentally about making an effort to be better than you would be otherwise, whilst adhering to a moral code you have arrived at through study and introspection. Many highly successful, rich and powerful people lack character. No one can forcibly take character away, though through your actions, you can reduce your character.

Your character is a constantly shifting quantity, like a health bar in a computer game. People will perceive it to be at different levels, depending on how well they know you. The people who know you best should have an accurate idea of your level of character, though their perception will never be 100% accurate. Acts which increase character can be acknowledged in social situations with the single word “character”. Here are some random examples of character that I’ve thought about or witnessed recently:

  • Wang Weilin staring down the tanks in Tiananmen Square

Wang Weilin
- The worker who goes to night school whilst working a full-time job so he can improve his lot

  • The MMA fighter who, even though he is outclassed and hurt, still attempts a high risk move

  • The guy at the bar who walks away from a “sure thing” cute girl when she insults his friends

  • This Spanish runner

  • Rosa Parks not giving up her seat on the bus

  • My friend who sold all his possessions so he could be a completely mobile freelance designer and do what he felt he should, not what was expected of him:http://john.onolan.org/

  • Leonard Euler’s remark upon becoming blind: “now I have less to distract me from my work”

  • Simon Funk giving away his code whilst competing for the Netflix prize

  • The bouncer who asks a boyfriend in a reasonable tone, if he could ask his disrespectful girlfriend to remove her feet from the table rather than going aggressive

  • The friend who you trust, and who never betrays that trust: Character

Have you done something that required character recently? Or met someone who had character? If the answer is “no”, change things up.