How Is Character Built?

“Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn’t they have color film back then?” “Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It’s just that the world was black and white then. The world didn’t turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.”

  • Calvin and Hobbes

In the popular comic strip, Calvin’s dad often repeats the phrase “builds character” as a response to Calvin’s complaints about chores or hardships. But what does it really mean to “build character”? And how does character development occur?

From a psychological perspective, character development has been studied by many influential thinkers throughout history, including Carl Jung, Jean Piaget, and Jordan Peterson. Jung believed that character development was a process of individuation, or the journey towards self-discovery and self-realization. Piaget focused on the development of moral reasoning in children, while Peterson has emphasized the importance of developing personal responsibility and integrity.

However, character development is not limited to the realm of psychology. Throughout human history, there have been common patterns and themes that have contributed to the development of character.

The first and perhaps most obvious way in which character is built is through adversity. The challenges we face in life, whether they be physical, emotional, or mental, can teach us important lessons and shape our character. In many cultures, rites of passage, such as a vision quest or a coming-of-age ceremony, are designed to challenge individuals and help them develop important qualities like courage, resilience, and perseverance.

Similarly, experiences of suffering and loss can lead to character growth. As the saying goes, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl explores how individuals can find meaning in their suffering and how this can contribute to character development.

Another important way in which character is built is through socialization. Our interactions with others, especially during childhood and adolescence, can have a profound impact on our character development. Parents, teachers, and other role models can teach us important values and behaviors that shape who we are. Similarly, peer groups and social norms can influence our attitudes and behaviors.

Education is also a key factor in character development. In addition to teaching academic knowledge and skills, schools and universities can also teach important character traits like curiosity, intellectual humility, and open-mindedness. Many schools also have programs or classes designed specifically to promote character development, such as service learning or character education classes.

Religion and spirituality can also play a role in character development. Many religious traditions emphasize virtues such as compassion, forgiveness, and humility, and encourage their followers to develop these qualities through prayer, meditation, and other practices.

Finally, individual choices and actions play a crucial role in character development. As Peterson has emphasized, personal responsibility is a key component of character. When we take ownership of our actions and strive to live in accordance with our values, we can develop important qualities like integrity, honesty, and self-discipline.

Building character has been a topic of interest for centuries, as demonstrated in the quote from Calvin and Hobbes about how his father said that certain experiences “build character.” This concept has been studied by prominent psychologists such as Carl Jung, Jean Piaget, and Jordan Peterson, who have offered insights into how character is formed.

Jung’s theories suggest that character is developed through the integration of the various parts of the psyche, including the unconscious and conscious mind. He believed that the process of individuation, where an individual becomes more self-aware and integrated, is key to building character. This process involves confronting one’s shadow, or the dark and unknown parts of the psyche, and integrating them into the conscious mind. Through this process, individuals become more whole and authentic, which contributes to the development of strong character.

Piaget’s cognitive development theory posits that character is formed through the development of moral reasoning. According to Piaget, individuals progress through stages of moral development, with the ability to reason about morality evolving over time. The first stage involves a focus on obedience and punishment, where individuals follow rules to avoid punishment. Later stages involve a greater focus on social norms and an understanding of the intentions behind actions. Through this process, individuals develop a sense of right and wrong and a strong moral character.

Jordan Peterson, a contemporary psychologist and professor, offers a modern take on character development. He suggests that character is built through the process of “cleaning your room,” or taking responsibility for one’s life and surroundings. Peterson advocates for individuals to take responsibility for their actions and to strive towards personal improvement. By facing one’s problems head-on and taking action to address them, individuals can develop a sense of purpose and direction, which contributes to the development of strong character.

Throughout history, there have been common patterns in how character is built. One of the most significant factors is the influence of culture and society. In ancient societies, character was often built through the process of initiation, where individuals underwent a series of trials and challenges to prove their worth and become full members of their community. In medieval Europe, character was often built through the chivalric code, which emphasized virtues such as courage, honor, and loyalty.

In modern society, character is still shaped by cultural norms and expectations. Schools and other institutions play a significant role in character development, with values such as honesty, responsibility, and hard work often emphasized. Religious and spiritual practices also contribute to character development, with many faiths emphasizing virtues such as compassion, forgiveness, and humility.

Research over the past 100 years has provided additional insights into the development of character. Studies have shown that individuals who have experienced adversity, such as poverty or illness, may be more resilient and better equipped to handle future challenges. Positive relationships with family and peers have also been shown to contribute to the development of strong character.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the role of grit in character development. Grit refers to an individual’s perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Research has shown that individuals who possess high levels of grit are more likely to achieve their goals and to be successful in various areas of life. Furthermore, grit can be developed through deliberate practice and perseverance, suggesting that it is a trait that can be cultivated.

In conclusion, character development is a complex and multifaceted process that has been studied by many influential thinkers throughout history. From the theories of Carl Jung and Jean Piaget to the modern insights of Jordan Peterson, there are many different perspectives on how character is built. Throughout human history, there have been common patterns in how character is developed, with cultural norms and institutions playing a significant role. Research over the past century has provided additional insights into the factors that contribute to the development of strong character, including adversity, positive relationships, and grit. Ultimately, the development of character

While psychological theories have provided important insights into how character develops, it is also important to consider the role of cultural, social, educational, and personal factors in shaping our character.

Ultimately, the development of character is a lifelong process that requires ongoing reflection, growth, and self-awareness.

Be cool. Do stuff. It builds character.


  • Adler, A. (1931). What life should mean to you. Blue Ribbon Books.
  • Baumeister, R. F. (1996). Identity and self-regulation. In R. S. Wyer Jr. (Ed.), Advances in social cognition (Vol. 9, pp. 1-47). Erlbaum.
  • Erikson, E. H. (1959). Identity and the life cycle. International Universities Press.
  • Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its discontents. Hogarth Press.
  • Jung, C. G. (1959). The archetypes and the collective unconscious (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton University Press.
  • Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. Harper.
  • Piaget, J. (1964). Development and learning. In R. Ripple & V. Rockcastle (Eds.), Piaget rediscovered: A report on the conference on cognitive studies and curriculum development (pp. 7-20). Cornell University Press.
  • Peterson, J. B. (2018). 12 rules for life: An antidote to chaos. Random House Canada.
  • Rutter, M. (2006). Implications of resilience concepts for scientific understanding. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1094(1), 1-12.
  • Seligman, M. E. (1998). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. Pocket Books.
  • Snyder, C. R. (1994). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. Free Press.

The ABCs of Life

A widely-shared set of axioms on life organized in a gr…

A Poem for May 25th, 2023

“The rarer you are, the rarer the people are who share …



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  เปลี่ยนแปลง )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  เปลี่ยนแปลง )

Connecting to %s

บลอกที่ .

%d bloggers like this: