The Definition of “Good Character”

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey talks about the Character Ethic versus the Personality Ethic.


Basically, the personality ethic is a superficial approach to self-development. It focuses on tactics and quick-fixes to problems. On the other hand, the character ethic is about your core substance.


Put another way, focusing on tactics and quick-fixes is like growing a large plant with weak roots. Eventually, the plant will break. For example, when a person quickly gets wealth and fame but lacks character, that person can become arrogant and develop bad habits, which then lead to a big fall. Developing character takes time and effort, but the result is a strong foundation for the plant.

We all want to be good people, and we want to be around good people. But by what criteria can you judge someone’s character? I found a thorough answer worth sharing from this speech. According to ancient Chinese culture, there are 12 virtues. When a person practices any of these virtues, they are showing “good character”.

  1. Filial Piety: Respecting parents. It is the first of all virtues because if someone can’t even respect their parents, who so selflessly raise their children, there’s no way they can sincerely respect anyone else unless it’s for selfish reasons. This virtue can be broadened to treating all elders of your parents’ age and grandparents’ age as respectfully as your parents and grandparents.
  2. Siblinghood: Rooted in filial piety, siblinghood is about taking care of your siblings because parents want their children to support each other and get along harmoniously. This virtue can be broadened into treating all people who are around your age as respectfully as you would your siblings.
  3. Loyalty: This is about being devoted and sincere (e.g., to the family, to a person, to the country). Loyalty comes from the heart, hence loyal-seeming actions with insincerity is actually disloyalty.
  4. Trustworthiness: This virtue means being careful about what you say and doing what you say you will do. An untrustworthy person cannot establish a firm footing in society.
  5. Propriety: This virtue is about courtesy and etiquette, and it’s rooted in consideration for other people. For example, following the social norms of whatever culture you’re in.
  6. Righteousness: This virtue is about following proper moral principles and being fair and reasonable in our thoughts, speech, and actions.
  7. Integrity: This virtue is about being clean and not corrupt, not trying to take advantage of others. Integrity also encompasses frugality / not being wasteful. Wasting natural resources hurts the Earth, and extravagance wastes resources that could be donated to help others.
  8. Shame (Humility): Shame is about maintaining a clear conscience and feeling remorse for not living up to our best potential. Nowadays, many people use the word shame with a negative connotation, so you can use the word humility instead. Shame/Humility results in courage to take action and improve oneself.
  9. Benevolence & Love: Love is about using your heart to feel what the other person needs. A benevolent person has boundless compassion for others, and they have no enemies. They wish for harmony and peace for everyone.
  10. Harmony & Peace: A person of good character promotes harmony and peace with their speech and actions. They avoid gossip, discussions of people’s faults, and any us-versus-them mindsets. They are willing to yield away their ego and biases to promote harmony.

Now that you know what it means to have “good character”, here are a couple questions to consider:

  • Who comes to mind when you think of someone with “good character”? Now get specific on why they have good character by using the 12 virtues.
  • Consider which virtues you want to work on to strengthen your character.

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.