Intentionally connect and be accountable
This week you will continue putting your habituation plan in practice, but you will also intentionally reach out to a character friend and ask to be accountable during next weeks.
Character friendship, in fact, is not just a theory but a powerful dynamic that you are choosing to engage with. As you become vulnerable and accountable on specific virtue-related issues, you will find the benefits to your character.
How then can you identify a character friend who will walk with you in the coming weeks?
As you think about who a good character friend might be, you need to caution against ideals that may be too romantic. A genuine, dedicated, focused, exclusive, critical friendship can be rare. In the Bible, David may have only had one such friend in his entire life (and he died a tragic death). In reality, most good character friendships are found in differing shades of intensity, and we should be willing to gratefully accept whatever is offered to us as a free gift.
So, what might some selection criteria be for a good character friend? You may already have someone in mind, but here are seven questions to help you:
Most people can probably find a character friend, or at least someone who meets some of the criteria above at least some of the time. But what if you can’t?
A first question you must ask yourself if you do not have character friends, is whether you are humble enough to have them. If you do not welcome critical, evaluative input from others into the deeper parts of your soul and character, it is unlikely that you will have character friends? Even worse, to the degree that you are a person who is dedicated to vice, you will lack in self-knowledge and self-love and hence you will be unable to love others, precluding the foundations of character friendship. In this case, gracefully and courageously admit that you are the problem, and being working on your character through the other tools in this website to address this. There is hope that you can change this in time and from here to a year or two, you will have blessed yourself by cultivating character friends.
But it is also possible that you are not the problem. You may have suffered life circumstances that have isolated you. Perhaps you have been bereaved of your closest friends. Or not so dramatically, perhaps you have simply never invested in this way, being satisfied with friendships of utility and/or of pleasure. If you have have never practiced character friendship yourself you are unlikely to have character friends for we become friends by practising friendship. If this is the case, you need to start now in this new practice, momentarily doing without the tool of character friendship in this intensive practice phase, but making a point of developing this kind of friendship as you move forward in life.
But there is another alternative. We have suggested above that, in this project, a character friend should ideally be a peer, but it entirely possible to also greatly benefit from critical friendships that are socially unequal. All of the dynamics described so far will work well, with the added bonus of someone that may have more to give to you in terms of experience in character development and practical virtue. If you choose to go in this direction, you might broaden the range of your thinking to include your pastor, an older member of your family or a teacher that knows you well.
And now the practical part. Here is what you need to do:
Discourse on character friendship should be taken up with a passion by all those that lead a community. Whether it be a faith community or an educational community (e.g. formal or non-formal theological education communities).
Character friendships are not a nice optional reality. They lie at the very foundation of how individuals can grow. Hence as leaders, we need to be aware, informed and intentional in making these kind of friendships happen in our communities.
If you are leading a group in using this site virtueducation.net as a developmental activity, this might be a great opportunity to begin fostering exactly those kinds of friendships.