Character:  The Grandest
Thing in the World

Orison Swett Marden


A good character is a precious thing, above rubies, gold, crowns, or kingdoms, and the work of making it is the noblest labor on earth.  Money-getting has well been called unhealthy when it impoverishes the mind, or dries up the sources of the spiritual life; when it extinguishes the sense of beauty, and makes one indifferent to the wonders of nature and art; when it blunts the moral sense, and confuses the distinction between right and wrong, virtue and vice; when it stifles religious impulse, and blots all thoughts of God from the soul.

It is just as important to set apart time for the development of our aesthetic faculties as for cultivating the money-getting instinct.  We cannot live by bread alone.  Our higher lives demand an impalpable food.  It takes a large bill of fare to feed an immortal being.  The mind and soul in a well-developed person are ever more imperious in their demand for the true and the beautiful than is the body for material food.

Character is perpetual wealth, and by the side of those who possess it the millionaire who has it not seems a pauper.  Compared with it, what are houses and lands, stocks and bonds?  “It is better that great souls should live in small habitations than that abject slaves should burrow in great houses.”  Plain living, rich thought, and grand effort are real riches.

Neither our means, nor our worth, are measurable by our money.  If we have a fat purse and a lean heart, a broad estate and a narrow understanding, what will our “means” do for us—what will our “worth” gain us?  What sadder sight is there than an old person who has spent his or her whole life getting instead of growing?

If we have piled up books, statuary, and paintings, with our wealth, we may be strangers amongst them.  How poor we are if our souls have shriveled to that of misers, and if all our nobler instincts are dead!

Do you call those successful who wear a bulldog expression that but too plainly tells the story of how they gained their fortune, taking but never giving?  Can you not read in those browbeating faces the sad experience of widows and orphans?  Do you call them self-made people who have unmade others to make themselves—who tear others down to build themselves up?  Can we be really rich who make others poorer?  Can we be happy in whose every lineament, chronic avarice is seen as plainly as hunger in the countenance of a wolf?  How seldom are sweet, serene, beautiful faces seen on people who have been very successful as the world rates success!  Nature expresses in the face and manner the sentiment which rules the heart.

Character isn't inherited.  One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts,
thought by thought, action by action.  If one lets fear or hate or anger
take possession of the mind, they become self-forged chains.

Helen Gahagan Douglas


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