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Shaping Character

May 8, 2009

In chapter 3 of Louis L’Amour’s The Walking Drum Kerbouchard ponders that,

Appearances count for little, and I knew I must shape the character of the man I wished to be into something of worth.

 This sets the stage for the rest of the book.  Near the end of the book chapter 46 begins this way:

It has seemed to me that each year one should pause to take stock of himself, to ask: where am I going?  What am I becoming?  What do I wish to do and become? 

Most people whom I encountered were without purpose, people who had given themselves no goal.  The first goal need not be the final one, for a sailing ship sails first by one wind, then another.  The point is that it is always going somewhere, proceeding toward a final destination. 

Until now my task had been to find if my father was alive, and if so where, and then how to free him from slavery.

These were but temporary goals.  What was it I wanted?  Where was I going?  What had I done to achieve it? . . .

. . . Yesterday I arrived hungry and in rags; today I was the confidant of kings; so can a man’s fortune change.

Yet power, riches, and the friendship of kings are but transitory things.  Riches are a claim to distinction for those who have no other right to it.  Ancestry is most important to those who have done nothing themselves, and often the ancestor from whom they claim descent is one they would not allow in the house if they met him today. . . .

. . . Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be.  Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate.  Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow.  The wish, however, must be implemented by deeds.

That last paragraph is worth reflection.  But notice the relation it bears with the first quote from the beginning of the book.  Who or what is “shaping the character” of men, women, and children today?

Each day I witness a culture that increasingly relies upon others for personal fulfillment and progress.  People today ideed have goals, but many set the responsibilty of reaching those goals upon the wealthy and/or the government.  This sort of reliance is not a simple matter of trust; it is the offering of one’s life.  The one who shapes the soul has the power to enslave the will.  Such external reliances come with a risk.  As the many grow more and more dependent upon those above them they become less and less capable of standing on their own two feet. 

We are still asking the questions, “What is it that I want?” “Where am I going?”  The question not asked is, “What have I done to achieve it?”  Instead we ask, “What will you do to get it for me?”

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From → Literature

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