What is a true test of a person’s character?

Yesterday, as I was reading Bob Sutton’s work manifesto, I was struck by his #9: “The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.” I love this way of thinking about character, and that statement got me thinking: what else is a test of a person’s true nature? Well, what a person finds funny is a good test. I asked a bunch of friends for their ideas.

–“How a person treats a waiter.”
–“Whether a person plays by the rules when no one is watching.”
–“How people behave when they’re pulled over while driving.”
–“How a person treats his or her own parents. And in-laws.”
–“My father told me never to trust a man who doesn’t drink – though he did say there are a few medical exceptions.” (Maybe I’m off the hook here as a woman, but I basically had to give up drinking, so I’d fail this test.)
–“How often they use the bcc function in work emails. I don’t think you should ever use the bcc.”
–“Whether a person eats a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party.” (As an unconventional eater myself, I’d fail this test; I wouldn’t eat that birthday cake.)
–“How he or she handles good fortune.”
–“How he or she behaves during a long, arduous trip.”
–“It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.” –John Henry Newman.

I get a tremendous kick out of collecting these kinds of observations. If you have one to add, please post it.

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Journalist Carlin Flora at Psychology Today wrote a big piece on happiness, Happiness Makeovers, and she was kind enough to include a profile of me.

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Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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  • Joan A. Istre

    “Character is something you do when no one is watching.”

  • Jonathan

    How he or she treats a pet or animal.

  • Shilohbloo

    So very important whether or not they believe in Jesus as their Christ… If truly so, and they put their beliefs into actions, it takes care of how they act when no one is watching – because God is always watching – as well as how they treat animals and those in lesser positions than themselves, etc.

  • antitango

    How does a person react when they are put in a tough situation? You may think they are a credible person or have integrity but, how do they respond when stressed?

  • Mostafa Nashaat Mamdouh

    how does one treat the people they don’t have to be nice to

  • Mostafa Nashaat Mamdouh

    how does one react to temptation that will not bring about consequences :)

  • joyce

    i think that phrase in which you quoted “The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.” — i’ve heard it already said different times different ways and in religion classes.. well, thanks for reminding again..

  • Guest

    - How do they treat thier parents.

    – if they hate (critize) most, or even all people, specially who you know very well, that there’s nothing wrong with them.

    – also, how she/ he reacts when you are the wrong one.

    – watch if she/ he is over obssessed with her/ him self.