‘Warning: I have character defects and I’m not afraid to use them’
This was the slogan on the fridge magnet I bought for my husband this week. It was part of a peace-offering because we had had a long distance ‘disagreement’ ( that would be a row then). I think the bottle of red wine went further in terms of appeasement than the magnet but the sentiment was not lost on him.
It made me smile because it’s so obviously true. We do all have character defects but spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to pretend we don’t: justifying to ourselves or others why we are right and they are wrong.
It’s been annual ‘report writing’ time at college. I have to fill in a huge questionnaire about myself, requiring at least an evening’s worth of navel-gazing which my tutor then has to process into a report to my Bishop informing him about my personality, character, intellectual stamina and personally engaging (or off-putting) qualities etc, etc.
As always there is the standard interview question: ‘list your strengths and weaknesses’. For weaknesses it’s important to fall back on something that sounds engagingly honest but not show-stoppingly dire. Confessing a penchant for biting the heads off live goldfish does not go down well. My fall-back position is an admission to ‘numerical ineptitude’ and intolerance for dithering.
You have to pick which defects are safe to declare.
So here is a less ‘safe’ admission: I am well practised in the art of being grumpy. As all reports should be evidence based, here is the evidence that I have clearly possessed this ability for a very long time:
Yes, this IS me. I am about three years old. I am at a party. Note the incongruity between the party hat and the expression. Note also the large curl in the middle of my forehead.
For some odd reason, known only to themselves, my parents would often and fondly recite to me the following rhyme:
‘There was a little girl,
She had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good, she was very, very good
But when she was bad, SHE WAS HORRID’
(The last line always seemed to be delivered with undue emphasis!)
They found this highly amusing. Needless to say I did not. It was not perhaps their finest hour as parents. But in fairness, all those years ago, no one worried about child psychology or creating self-fulfilling prophecies, they just thought it was funny. Judging from my face, they might have been better off sticking with ‘This little piggy went to market’
Anyway, there you have it: I can be grumpy and when I’m grumpy, I tend to be very, very grumpy (may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb).
It can be difficult acknowledging the less attractive side of our personalities. A few years ago I did a personality test called The Four Elements based on a book by Laurie Beth Jones called The Four Elements of Success. I’d read the book and came to my own conclusion that I was a ‘wind’ personality. Then I took the test and discovered I was a ‘Fire’, a pretty ‘off the scale’ fire personality in fact. This took some time to process but eventually I had to agree with the assessment. I am a ‘fire’ personality, albeit with strong ‘wind’ tendencies (no jokes about beans, please, I’ve heard them all from David). I had been mistaken in my self-assessment because all the wind characteristics were ones I found easy to acknowledge, they were things I like about myself but I was reluctant to embrace my strong fire characteristics. It was a very helpful, if somewhat salutory lesson in self-acceptance.
It made me realise that there are actually ways of using character ‘defects’ (I use the word advisedly) helpfully. The Bible is full of people with character defects: Peter always said the first thing that came into his head, Paul couldn’t find a full-stop to save his life (technically that’s a grammatical defect but really, why say something simply when you can use five sub-clauses, three conjunctions and a doxology) and Thomas was a cynic.
The best way to use a character defect is to realise that you are NOT the ‘bees knees’, you are NOT two steps away from divinity, your perspective may be warped, your judgement impaired, your view may be blinkered. What you need is not perfection. What you need is other people to balance and complement you, to help you see from angles that are beyond you, to provide the skills that you lack, to offer the gifts you don’t possess. This is why God put us in body. None of us have a right to self-sufficiency. I need you to tell me if I’m unreasonably grumpy or to check the maths on my expenses claim and you need me to ….. ?