I heard the comparison during a late night interview shows on a network radio station back in the day. It may have been with Larry King or one of the other big-name broadcast journalists of the early 1980s. The interviewer’s guest described how developing personal integrity and character is done in the same manner that an actor develops his depiction of a character for a movie. That observation still sticks in my mind as profound wisdom.
As I contemplate that interview snippet I think about how good actors absorb the dramatic character’s characteristics. They become the film’s protagonist or antagonist during rehearsal and filming of the movie. Some movie stars have said that they become so true to a movie character that it’s difficult to shed his or her character when they go home after the cameras have stopped rolling. A little part of the movie character becomes embedded in the actor’s own personal character.
Speaking and writing about character and integrity is tricky. To do so without coming off as preachy and sanctimonious is the main stumbling block. Such preachers run the risk of being called hypocrites when they are discovered in acts of impropriety. On the other hand, some advocates of pristine character and integrity utilize “humble bragging”. This often comes off to the audience as phoniness. To talk about and write about good character is a balancing act if you don’t want to be sanctimonious nor hypocritical.
“The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays that part.”–Miguel de Cervantes
Cervantes is notable for being credited as writing the masterpiece novel Don Quixote. Cervantes’ character comes through in his most famous book if you read between the lines.
Cervantes had been composing poetry in the mid 1500s and had contributed some verses to the memorial of the wife of Spain’s King Philip the Second after her death in 1569. Shortly afterwards Cervantes joined a military unit serving in Italy. The writer fought in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 against the Ottoman Empire. He was wounded during the conflict with two chest wounds and the total maiming of his left hand. Although Cervantes was disabled, he remained in the military for several more years.
During the return voyage to Spain, Cervantes and his brother were captured by the Ottomans. Cervantes was enslaved for five years and made many failed escape attempts. He finally returned to Spain after ransom was paid for his freedom. After reaching home, Cervantes published a first novel that bombed. He wrote a few plays that did not do well either.
To make financial ends meet, Cervantes signed on with the Spanish Armada as a commissary supplier. His job description included the collection of grain from rural areas. Due to the fact that the farmers were reluctant to contribute, Cervantes was imprisoned on charges of mismanagement. These harsh times led to Cervantes’ authorship of his best works.
The first part of Don Quixote was published in 1605. It became the world’s first best seller. He published the second installment of the story in 1615. Because authors were not paid royalties in those days, the books did not make Cervantes rich. He began writing another work but did not finish it before his death in 1616.
The sophistication of Cervantes’ writing was a product of the depth and strength of human character that he had built during his life. His moral reserve evolved as he found himself in non-customary life conditions. Bravery in battle and persistence while enslaved and imprisoned strengthened his character. Cervantes drew upon his character to provide the fodder for his writings.
The takeaway for us in the 21st century is that our ability to handle life’s challenges reveals our strength or lack of strength of character. When we take care of our core character, our reputations will take care of themselves. In the end, character is accepting full responsibility as an individual.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. “Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at.”