I’ve done extensive reading on ‘character’ in the past 5 years. One thing that is interesting is how it translates to our behaviour. Often it does, but sometimes our outward behaviour and demeanour is a false mask. This mask we may not even be aware of. We may think we are actually acting from an inner source, our character, but instead it is a projection.

Erich Fromm once wrote: "If I appear to be kind while my kindness is only a mask to cover my exploitiveness – if I appear to be courageous while I am extremely vain or perhaps suicidal – if I appear to love my country while I am furthering my selfish interests, the appearance, i.e., my overt behavior, is in drastic contradiction to the reality of forces that motivate me. My behavior is different from my character. My character structure, the true motivation of my behavior, constitutes my real being. My behavior may partly reflect my being, but it is usually a mask that I have and that I wear for my own purposes. Behaviorism deals with this mask as if it were a reliable scientific datum; true insight is focused on the inner reality, which is usually neither conscious nor directly observable …" (To Have or To Be)

In the movie Batman Begins, there is a line said to Bruce Wayne, which seems to have got a lot of people talking. Bruce’s childhood friend Rachel sees him living a life of debauchery and excess but he defends himself by saying that inside he’s truly a good person. She replies, "It is not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you." And I think in this context, this is a true aphorism. After all, if you claim to love someone but never show it, it calls into question this love you say you feel.

But perhaps its more of a matter of courage, courage to act on our feelings/dispositions. Confucius makes two remarks about courage that come to mind:

子曰: … 見義不為,無勇也。
“The master said: … To see what is right but not to act (shows) a lack of courage.”


“One who is benevolent is sure to be courageous, but one who is courageous is not sure to be benevolent.”

Here we see that courage is a necessary part of acting rightly and "benevolently" ("benevolent" might not be the best translation of 仁 here.) Courage by itself doesn’t imply either. But the fact that we can know what is right yet fail to act on it shows that courage is involved. And Confucius argues that one who is truly benevolent always has the courage (to act on it).

One more thing, suppose someone is very generous and lends people things, money, their time, etc. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are truly generous. Perhaps they are filthy rich and simply don’t have enough reason not to be generous. The true test would be to take much of it away and see how generous they are then.