Rosicrucian Writings Online
The Mystery of PersonalityARE WE WHAT WE THINK WE ARE,
OR ARE WE LIVING IMAGES?
By The Imperator
[H. Spencer Lewis]
[From The Rosicrucian Digest March 1936]
IN SOME of the monographs of our degrees of study the subject of individuality and personality is discussed at considerable length, but we find in the problem of personality many interesting facts that are commonly overlooked or greatly misunderstood.
We have a common practice at the present time throughout the civilized and uncivilized world to give names to children at birth, and these names they bear throughout their lives except when changed by marriage, or changed voluntarily with the permission of a court of law. The history of this practice is very interesting and shows that at the very dawn of civilization man attempted to distinguish himself and his associates by certain vowel sounds used for the purpose of identification. At first these names were of one or two syllables, and for many hundreds of years each individual usually bore but one name, a given name. Finally because of the multiplicity of these given names and the many similarities, certain adjectives were added to distinguish one from the other. At first these adjectives were descriptive of the appearance of the person, or descriptive of his home, his castle, his occupation, and finally the family name or group name was adopted. At first many of the family names were the names of the castles, estates, provinces, or occupations of the father or chief of the family.
But after all is said, the names which each of us carry to distinguish us from others do not distinguish the personality but rather the individuality. That which distinguishes us most clearly, most definitely, and certainly most satisfactorily, is the picture of presentment of our own personality.
To illustrate what I mean, I will cite an incident that occurred just a few days ago. A large social organization in this city found that it was necessary to select from its membership, composed wholly of women, a committee of fifteen to attend a very important civic affair as representatives of the women of the central portion of California. I was present with the two officers who had the responsibility of selecting this committee. As they began to pick out the women for the committee of fifteen, I noticed that emphasis was given in each and every case to certain outstanding characteristics of the personality of the individual. Mrs. Smith was not selected because her name was Mrs. Smith, and because that name distinguished her from others, but because of some charm, or some pleasant, impressive trait of personality, or because of some mental, intellectual, or other talent which she had developed and manifested in an efficient and useful manner. In other words, the committee was selecting fifteen personalities and not fifteen individuals or fifteen names. This became evident when a number of persons selected were unknown by name to the committee. I heard one of the two persons say, "There is that lady, the one who always smiles so pleasantly when she meets everyone, who dresses so conservatively and yet correctly, who never seems to have an ear for any critical comments, but is always ready to offer constructive suggestions, and the one who always arrives a little early at all the meetings and wants to know if there is something that she can do to help in the work of the organization." They did not describe her physical appearance very definitely, but certainly they did not describe her husband or the position he occupied, or the house she lived in, or her age, or any of the other points of distinction except those that pertained in a limited manner to her personality. It was very evident that it was the personality of this individual that had impressed the two officers, and not the fact that she was the wife of one of the leading bankers of the city, or that she had a magnificent home, or did a great deal of social entertaining, or had considerable wealth, or had been to Europe a number of times, or that she had three sons who were well-known in business in the city, or any other factor except that which related to her personality.
I have noticed in my contact with successful business executives in large corporations and institutions that in selecting employees or associates for certain important positions, consideration was given first of all to the personality of those who were under consideration. Every large executive will tell you that he is more familiar with personalities in his institution than with names. He will admit to you that there are a number of persons whom he contacts throughout the day in a casual manner, and whose names he has never learned, but who he has marked almost unconsciously in his mind because of some outstanding characteristic of personality. Sometimes these characteristics are unfavorable, and for that reason the person is marked in a derogatory way, and perhaps would be one of the first to be discharged, suspended, or laid off temporarily if any reduction in the number of employees were necessary. On the other hand, others will be promoted, advanced, and given more authority and opportunity for the use of their abilities because of outstanding points of personality that are favorable.
Our personalities are things which we create and make, more than we realize. It is true that we inherit a few traits of personality from our ancestors, but even these can be modified, and often are modified, by the traits which we voluntarily adopt. I do not want to overlook the point that our health has some bearing upon our personalities. Years ago when the functioning of the spleen was not thoroughly understood, it was assumed that it had something to do with the character and personality, and we find evidence of that old belief in modern phrases such as "his spleen must be out of order today," when we find someone who is grouchy and unruly or temperamental. A person whose health is below par and who is suffering to some degree, or annoyed in his harmonious balance by an ailment, will sooner or later have his personality reflect the physical and mental mood within. It certainly is not too much to say that a person in poor health cannot always manifest in a natural manner a pleasing personality, or even the true personality that would manifest if the health were normal.
It is always possible under certain circumstances to place upon ourselves a temporary cloak of fictitious personality. But this hypocritical presentment of ourselves never deceives for any length of time. A cloak may serve on occasion among strangers for a few hours or for a few seconds, but there is one reason why such a cloak, if worn very long, defeats its own purpose. The person who is wearing it must constantly keep it fresh and active in order that it serves its purpose, and in doing this the mind is so continuously centered upon the fictitious characteristics of personality being assumed, and so constantly concerned lest an error of personality be expressed or a slip made that would reveal the true personality, that the individual is constantly ill at ease and not natural and soon creates the impression in the minds of others that he or she is acting. There is nothing so destructive to a good impression of one's personality than the impression given to others of acting. Whatever charm, whatever power, whatever good there may be in our personalities must be revealed as natural, and not as artificial if the personality is to win its way.
But there are traits of personality acquired through inheritance or through momentary ill health, or perhaps through temporary worries and problems that disconcert which can be deliberately modified and gradually rejected and cast out. Our personalities are therefore something which we can create, and which we do create from day to day and year to year.
If we think that our physical appearance and our individuality as human beings is something that changes from year to year through age and through experience and through the trials and tribulations of life, we should realize that personality too is constantly changing and that each experience of life, each trial, each suffering, each test of our capabilities and powers contribute more definitely to the molding of our personality than they do to the physical appearance of the body. We have often heard it said that a person who has lived a long time has grown more aged looking or more gray, more wrinkled or more stooped, but has also grown more "mellow" in personality.
Fortunately for the human race and the advancement of civilization, as well as for the unfoldment of our evolution, the trials and tribulations of life have from century to century modified constructively and for the better of all concerned, the personality of the average individual. In other words, the greatest good that time and evolution have contributed to the advancement of civilization has been in the improvement of the personality of human beings more than in the improvement of his physical appearance.
Scientists remind us that in the evolution of the human form throughout the ages, man has become more upright in his stature and has softened in his physical appearance, has become more graceful in his movements, and has lost a number of physical attributes which are unnecessary and which made him crude and primitive in appearance. But these great improvements in our physical makeup are of far less importance to the advancement of civilization than the improvements that have taken place in the personality of man.
I have said above that man is the creator of his personality and can make it almost what he wishes to make it. However, I do not want to slight the fact that some traits of personality have been added to the average individual unconsciously and involuntarily through the experiences of life. But these involuntary improvements do not begin to equal in number or in importance the voluntary qualities and attributes that man has deliberately developed, not assumed. Again the distinction is being made between assumed or artificial or temporary traits of personality, and those which have been deliberately or involuntarily developed gradually and over a length of time and which have become natural and permanent.
Perhaps one of the outstanding traits of human personality is the tendency to smile pleasantly when in company with those persons who can appreciate and do appreciate a pleasant expression of personality. It is said that man is the only living member of the animal kingdom that can smile, and express a smile, and through a smile reveal joy and happiness. Man has made the most of this natural ability deliberately and unconsciously. We do find human beings whom we would suspect as having no ability to smile, and no facility for expressing any joy or happiness that may be in their hearts. Certainly they are in the minority. This one characteristic of personality when deliberately developed becomes an outstanding and impressive one. We soon find ourselves liking and enjoying the company of those who smile easily and sincerely. It is not only because they help to contribute to our happiness and the pleasantness of the day, but they cause us to feel that the person is happy within, and has found the real key to some happiness. It is a human tendency for individuals to seek happiness or to seek the joyous side of life. This has been one of the fundamental elements controlling the progressive development of man in the process of evolution. Such persons are distinguished very definitely from those who wilfully or unconsciously seek the sordid and unhappy side of life. Such persons are either mentally unbalanced, mentally deficient, or psychically undeveloped. Even among the criminal classes where the tendency is to associate with that which is deplorable, destructive, unhappy, contentious, or abnormal, there is a degree of inconsistency mentally and psychically, and such persons are not normal human beings. Even when psychoanalysts state that some of these persons deliberately associate themselves with the sordid and unhappy side of life and try to tell us that it is not because of any uncontrollable urge from within, we must admit that such persons are mentally deficient or abnormal, and that therefore their deliberateness in this regard is not a sign of strong mentality, but rather a sign of a condition which should arouse our compassion and our pity. For this reason most criminals and those who love to be a part of the underworld should be treated by us as needing psychopathic consideration and treatment rather than dire punishment.
When we present our personalities to our friends and acquaintances, we are presenting a picture of the real self within. During the daytime while we are occupying an important executive position and feel that we must wear a cloak of extreme dignity and authority in order to demand or command respect from employees and so-called inferiors, we may put upon ourselves an artificial cloak, and assume an outer expression of personality that is not our true selves. But in moments of relaxation and in social contacts and in moments that we are unaware of, the real personality underneath the cloak will reveal itself and will make a more lasting and more understandable impression than those which we may have assumed. Employees under any executive will frankly state that they take with a so-called grain of salt the exacting attitude and critical mannerisms of their employer, for they have noticed at odd moments that underneath his outer cloak there is a personality of fairness, kindness, justice, and happiness. But in the same manner an artificial cloak of kindness and mercy, of sincerity and fairness is detected in all of its falseness just as readily.
There is nothing that will tend to develop a pleasing personality, and one which in a very subtle and mysterious manner impresses itself in its truthfulness upon all whom we contact, more than the adoption of an attitude of tolerance in all matters of distinction. In other words, if we adopt a universal and human point of view in regard to distinctions of individuals and their experiences in life, we become kind and gentle in personality. So long as we can feel that one race or nation of people is better than another, or that one race or nation of people worse than another; or so long as we can feel that persons of one religion are wrong, or represent the black people of the world, while those of another or several other religions are better; or so long as we feel convinced that persons of one color or class are lower in the scale of life or less desirable than others, we are bound to have certain characteristics maintained in our personality that are unfavorable and will sooner or later manifest themselves in detrimental ways.
The absence of any form of religious worship in our beings is a derogatory element in our personalities that is sure to reflect itself unfavorably. The person who does not love God--a supreme being of some kind representing the omnipotence of the universe--is lacking in one of the first elements of a pleasing personality. The person who cannot love all men and all women as human beings as his kindred, free from distinctions that will belittle any of them, is lacking another important element that makes a pleasing personality. The person who cannot find actual joy and happiness in life itself, and in living, lacks a very essential element in a pleasing personality. The one who cannot see that there is far more good in the world, far more joy, far more happiness, far more of the ideal and beautiful, is doomed to have a most disagreeable personality. The one who can find himself ready to listen to the tales of gossip and the critical remarks of other persons, and find interest in such stories, is sure to have his personality darkened and clouded, and to have this cloudiness reveal itself to others.
So we find that our personality is something that we can regulate and control. It should be something that is composed of a code of life which we can adopt at the beginning and develop and make a true and inherent part of ourselves. We should give as much thought to the development of this personality as we give to the development of the brain and the mind and their faculties. It should begin with the training of a child, and step by step as the child is taught to walk and to talk, to read and to understand, he should be taught the essentials of a pleasant, happy personality. As he is taught to have his face and hands cleansed that the dirt and dross that have disguised the real features should be removed, he should be taught to remove from his consciousness those things that will conceal the personality's real charms. An example should be set by the development of the personalities of the parents, and the things that we read and the things that we permit ourselves to see and witness are contributory factors of which we are often unaware.
The man or woman who reads daily or weekly only those newspapers or periodicals that deal with the contentions between labor and capital, between the various opposing factors of social and economic conditions, and the attacks between rival political parties, is sure to develop a personality that is contentious and generally super-critical. On the other hand, those who make it their business to read such literature, and especially such newspapers as attempt to present the higher and better side of life, and to ignore as unessential the sordid and unfortunate things of life, will develop a tendency toward attunement with the happy, sunlit side of the world. There are newspapers which delight in overemphasizing the sordid things as constituting the most important news of the world. There are other publications which love to emphasize the kind and good things which life presents from day to day.
One cannot, for instance, take up a book of astronomy and read it carefully without becoming convinced that there are marvelous laws in the universe constantly operating for the good of man, and as one walks out in the evening and lifts his eyes toward heaven, he is bound to find new joy in noticing the groups of stars, their arrangements, and observing things about them that he had never seen before. Having read the book, and having become acquainted with another part of the universe, he finds a new field for pleasant and happy contemplation. But those who read only such books that deal with crime and with war, or with the economic struggles of our earthly systems, is bound to look upon every business transaction, every social contact, and every incident of life with a somewhat cynical and critical attitude. These things affect our personality, as do our private thoughts and our personal convictions which are subtly created and molded by the things we read and hear, observe and comprehend.
The creating of personality is something that is continuous and eternal from birth to transition, and beyond; personality is immortal. As we build and create it today and tomorrow, it will act and react and express itself in the eternal future. It will be the real part of us that will survive our earthly existence and become our spiritual heritage in the kingdom of God.
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