Manners — Behavior — Character — Personality — Individuality

By Garry Jacobs

August 19, 2006

Human personality is like an onion. It consists of multiple layers that become denser as you go deeper within. Manners are a thin veneer on the surface, a set of formalized patterns of action and response demanded of each of us by the society we live in, regardless of how we actually feel inside, which is often very different from the outward manners we exhibit. Though manners are superficial, perfect conduct even at this level is extremely difficult. We may exhibit good manners on important occasions or with important people, but few are capable of maintaining perfect conduct all the waking hours with close friends, intimate family members, work colleagues, casual acquaintances, servants, etc. The world worships appearances and gives utmost value to good manners, even when they conceal the very opposite inner disposition. Self-restraint, soft speech, humble considerate behavior towards all, thoughtful gestures are extremely difficult to maintain as unvarying conduct. One who is a perfect master of good manners can by virtue of that endowment alone secure international fame and recognition.

Manners are on the surface. Behavior is on the depth of the surface. Whereas manners reflect conduct that the world expects or demands of us, behavior is conduct expressive of our inner attitudes and beliefs. What the society demands as manners develops into genuine behavior in the individual. Friendly manners may disguise inner anger or anguish because society frowns on their expression, whereas cheerful, warm behavior expresses genuine happy, positive attitudes towards oneself and others.

Character is behavior that one has accepted in the very depths of his being, in the substance, and allowed to take root there. The attitudes that express outwardly as behavior can change in an instant or over time, but the formed traits that constitute our character are lasting and extremely resistant to change, regardless of the circumstance. A fair weather friend behaves well in good circumstances, but a person of good character is incapable of conduct that is contrary to his deep-seated convictions. Character is Swabhava, the power and nature of the form, Swarupa. As manners can disguise our real attitudes, outer behavior can either reflect or veil our true character, i.e. what we really are inside. Character expresses most clearly in times of crisis or opportunity, when the surface veneer of manners and superficial behavior is swept aside by an external pressure or lure.

Character is largely inherited from family, community and the nation. It is worthwhile examining oneself in terms of our national character to see to what extent one’s own nature is representative of the collective. The American character is one that seeks a larger rhythm, rises to meet any challenge and perseveres until the work is done. In India, character is generally misunderstood to mean honesty or in a narrower sense reliability in conduct with women. It is used to refer to a person’s social or individual value, rather than to the entire layer of human nature that is deeply rooted and fixed behind our behavior.

Character is associated with capacity. One who accomplishes at any level or in any field relies on a stable capacity for effective action that is an expression of character. Character may express as professional ability in a given field, in which case the endowment is narrowly limited or fixed so that it cannot be transferred to any other field of accomplishment. But the skills and capacities that constitute the essence of character lie at a deeper level in the plane of personality. Endowments at the level of personality are not fixed and can be transferred from one field to another. The IAS officer exhibits an administrative personality capable of managing any type of assignment given to him. The able politician who rises to rule a nation often exhibits the political personality of administration.

Manners, behavior, character and personality are attributes one acquires from society, the external environment, what is philosophically referred to as Nature. Nature is the Becoming of the Being that is Purusha. Nature is force and therefore is fixed. It is ruled by karma. Manners, behavior, character and personality are attributes developed from below drawing their energy from Nature. Its acme is Personality.

Personality can also be shaped from above, by the Being. That personality which is energized by the Purusha or the Being from above is the Individuality of Man. At the spiritual level it is called the Individual Divine, Jivatma. At the level of mind and vital, it is known as Individuality. For citizens to acquire individuality in a society, that society should function in freedom. True individuality cannot be inhibited by religion, social norms, or family. The awakened soul acts in utter freedom. In the absence of freedom it does not awake. In the West, individuality is formed in a pronounced measure, especially in the USA. Personality drawing its energy from the spirit and expressing the evolutionary energy is Individuality. Freedom, self-reliance and the value of the individual are the urge of the evolutionary energy in our times. One reason why the Americans lead the world today is that their national culture embraces and expresses these values in such great measure, even though it is at the merest physical level.

As the spirit is fully developed in India, developing spiritual individuality is possible for the awakened Indian, awakened in his soul. Should the Indians awake in their souls and espouse Truth in their lives, they will emerge as spiritual individuals. That is the goal of the 21st Century.