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The Single Worst Question to Ask in Family Legacy—Part III

Exercise of poor character can’t be blamed on personality.

I’ve been discussing the worst question to ask in family legacy discussions: Why can’t you be like me?

It’s such a poor question because it assumes that the person that you are speaking to is not adequate and needs to change. The emphasis here is on personality. Personality is how a particular person is wired. If you are wired as an extrovert—friendly, outgoing—it’s unreasonable to expect that you’ll work in a cubicle for the rest of your life. A person wired to be a strong visionary type will likely not succeed either if he is working on the assembly line in a plant.

However, we must make a critical distinction between personality and character. Personality is not inherently bad or good. It just is. Character can be good or bad.

Let’s play that out—and in particular, how it works in the family environment.

Let’s take the introvert in a family business environment. The introvert, when pushed into a strong sales role, may recoil at the discomfort of working with people on a day-to-day basis. That’s personality. However, as a matter of character, the introvert must still show up to work on time, and work wholeheartedly in that job. They don’t get to excuse being late or not working hard by calling it “personality.”

Character represents things like work ethic, integrity, honesty, compassion, love, gentleness, etc. These are all traits that can be worked on. An introvert, no matter how hard they work on it, will always be an introvert. An introvert can, by exercising strong character (diligence), demonstrate good sales traits. But it won’t be who that person is naturally.

Judging the limits of the two—personality versus character—takes some discernment. The goal in any family should be thriving individuals who are fully living out their giftedness within the personality they’ve been given.

These are critical distinctions, which the wise family seeking a fruitful legacy will seek to uncover.

Related articles:
The Jonathan Edwards Legacy—Why?
The Seven Generation Legacy—Can It Be Yours?
The 40 Generation Family Business?

About Bill High

Bill is CEO of the Signatry: A Global Christian Foundation. He works with families, individual givers, and financial advisers to share the foundation’s message regarding biblical generosity and charitable giving. » Learn More. He is the co-author with David Green of Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously.

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