Character is something that is with you all the time, not some goal you work towards. Winning a medal at the Olympics or writing a novel or watching a film are all okay but often leave you thinking, ‘Well, that was great!…Now what?’ With character this doesn’t happen. It is a state rather than an event. It is always there.
There are many traits that I admire. Making the best of things, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and not taking yourself too seriously are just three. But my favourite trait is toughness, both physical and mental and I think they usually go together.
If I watch a rugby match I often think, ‘I couldn’t do that’. It isn’t simply that I’m too old or too unfit or not big enough, though all those things are true. It is that I’m not, and never was, tough enough to play rugby. I’m a bit too ‘precious’. I feel the same when I watch a boxing match or some other activity that requires toughness.
Toughness is not the same thing as strength. The old man in the picture is probably not as strong as the younger man, but he is probably as tough, or maybe even tougher. Size is no obstacle to toughness.
Sometimes I see old people who grew up in a more austere age and they look tougher than later generations. They are like old boots. Their arthritis may be playing them up and their bunions may hurt and their knees ache when they get up from the chair but they still carry the shopping up the hill and do the gardening.
What I love about toughness is that it changes the way you approach life. Instead of moaning you just put up with things. Instead of being bothered by insults you just shrug them off.
Being tough is the opposite of feeling precious. Tough people use themselves like tools to get things done. Precious people care much less about getting things done than they do about how they look and about keeping themselves safe.
If a tough person is a pair of old leather boots then a precious person is a fragile ornament, useful for very little.