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Character development as a progression, a spiraling Hierarchy

Needs Hierarchy
Needs Hierarchy
A. Maslow

“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith - virtue, to virtue - knowledge, to knowledge - self-control, to self-control - perseverance, to perseverance - godliness, to godliness - brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness - love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Do you (the proverbial you, not you specifically)…do you ever wonder how character develops, biblically? I mean, Christians talk about character quite a bit. Furthermore, most Religions have a great deal to say about building character, integrity and the importance of right living. Character, much to all of our collective chagrins, does not develop overnight, however. Actually, as in my case, it develops so slowly that it could appear to not be happening at all if one didn’t know otherwise, until the day comes when the fleeting idea of character suddenly, it seems, appears. Or, in a less noticeable way, character can decline over timer, festering as if assaulted by decay, time and bad decisions.

Been there as well. As a matter of fact, I have learned more in my life from doing the wrong thing first than I have ever learned from making the right decision at the onset.

The biblical progression of character is outlined quite elegantly within the framework of Peter’s ministry to His flock within the group of believing Jews he had been working with. Peter wrote (in his second book) the portion of scripture provided at the beginning of this column. It is quite elegant in my opinion, especially for an author like Peter who appears to be quite aggressive and blunt in his messaging towards the believing Jews at that time. Most folks view this scripture as an inventory, as a list so to speak, of character attributes to be attained to and/or checked off of, the great to-do list of life’s daily accomplishments.

It is somewhat of a personal mirage though, in my mind, viewing this scripture, and those like it, as a list. It does indeed help in establishing whether or not we are on the right track so to speak, in our Christian walk towards morality…but it also allows us to pick and choose those things we may already be comfortable with or are working on, leaving those other “somethings” alone, those things of which we do not wish to develop as they are somehow distasteful or unattractive or just plain ol’ HARD for us to think about.

Take, for instance, virginity and/or abstinence (as a moral decision) based upon the need to develop self-control in this day and age of seeming over-indulgence? Need I say more? Sex for humans…is very difficult to resist if you hadn’t noticed. I think I just went from a G to a PG with that statement. chuckle

This scripture from 2 Peter isn’t a list however. Nor, is it an inventory. Not to me anyways. It is a hierarchy, in many respects. No, no. It doesn’t have anything to do with politics, pecking orders nor anything having to do with power and control in the way that the word -hierarchy- usually applies. It is more like a layer of bricks being leveled together and built upon each other; spiraling upwards towards a pinnacle, gaining strength of foundation with the ideal (as well as the reality) of love resting and waiting a’top the peak.

Take a gander through my eyes a minute, and see if you can see what I see.

First however, let me provide an example of something very similar. Abraham Maslow was a Psychologist who developed his Hierarchy of Needs as a theory in a 1943 paper regarding human motivation. See the diagram I have provided crowning the top of this column (I am not attempting to defend or define his hierarchy of needs; I seek only to use it as an example of a non-power motivated hierarchy). As one can easily see, there is a pyramidal movement from bottom to top, of general (yet specific to each level) needs being fulfilled at each step. The trick to understanding Maslow’s hierarchy is to recognize that each level is dependent upon the previous level of development for it to spiral and blossom towards the next level upwards, towards what Maslow (and Peter for that matter) believed to be the pinnacle, self-actualization. In Peter’s case, the pinnacle would be love.

Take the first two levels from the bottom up for instance, the physiological needs and the safety needs. Every human being needs to eat and hydrate. Nourishment and hydration are absolutely necessary if one is to survive. There is no debate about this fact. It is part of the human condition. Hence, it is a need. Therefore, when one is….say, homeless and living on the streets? His/her main concern will first be to secure water and food, even before shelter-although shelter, especially in winter, is very close to being a first level need as well. But, when dealing with thirst and starvation, even before one seeks to be sheltered from the storm, one will go forth to find food and water. In fact, the drive associated with hunger will push a person into the worst situations, such as storms, blizzards, crime and decay, just to find something to eat or something to quench the unbearable thirst that comes with living outside 24/7. Shelter is not exactly first priority when one is starving.

Nor is self-actualization or love for that matter. Let’s face it, approaching the proverbial man deprived of nutrition for weeks on end in order to talk to him about his/her personal significance needs and whether or not he is getting his emotional needs met would be fruitless. He is as likely to spit on your shoe as he is to listen to you talk about enlightenment. His current needs completely supersede everything else and until those needs are met, he won’t be looking to satisfy the higher level needs.

Now, take said homeless person and provide food and liquids. He eats. He drinks. He is, for a time, satisfied as far as hunger and thirst are concerned. What does he/she do next? Well? According to Maslow, and most if not all street folks, shelter then takes center stage. The first level of the needs hierarchy has been satisfied and the next level has been pierced, so to speak. Shelter than becomes the main concern that preoccupies our proverbial homeless human being.

This progression from a lower level to a higher level of needs satisfaction is the basis for my essay concerning a biblically stylized character development. Make sense? So then, take for example (in order), the previously established “list” of character traits that Peter outlines for us in his second book.







Brotherly kindness


Many believe, as I did for most of my adult reading life, that all of these are to be accomplished and developed separate from each other, as needed. Meaning, while I am working on my faith I can also work on my self-control…as it appears, I have none (I do have some, but for the sake of simplicity just roll with it).

The list approach suggests that if I decide NOT to work on my faith it won’t affect my self-control work because they are separate tasks and can be developed separate from each other. I am suggesting that if I give up on my faith work, my virtue work will suffer…and that in turn will cause my knowledge work to suffer…and then in turn my self-control work will suffer…and then in turn etc. etc. Meaning, they are dependent upon one another as opposed to being mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, what I do at the bottom level of Peter’s Character Development hierarchy will effect the development of the rest of my character attributes all the way to the top, all the way to the pinnacle, which is love.

Peter’s point can best be exemplified in a personal way. Starting with knowledge and self-control as they are an easy example, let’s develop this a bit. “…add to your knowledge self-control” Notice that knowledge predicates self-control, knowledge comes first. Meaning, we have to have a knowledge of something for us to need any sort of self-control over it. Take food for example, more specifically sweets.

Even more specifically….


Before the time when I discovered a specific tear drop from heaven known of as chocolate, I had no need for self-control over chocolate. Then? One day, along comes a candy bar and I become obsessive. The *knowing of chocolate (a neutral) led to an obsession for chocolate (the negative), and one that required due diligence and self-control, otherwise chocolate would have overcome my sweet tooth and no one would have ever seen me again while I squandered away my days swimming in an outdoor kiddie pool full of melted Hershey bars.. It wasn’t the *knowledge of chocolate that was the issue. It was the obsession with the knowing of chocolate that necessitated self-control.

Footnote time…err…middle-of-the-column-note time

*(Knowledge is not an evil, in and of itself, as many folks try to portray us as saying in their assessment of the biblical view of knowledge. In the garden it was the knowledge of good and evil - more specifically the knowledge of the difference between good and evil, even more specifically the knowledge that evil exists and we can freely perform it - that Genesis was concerned about in that fateful day when, as I believe it to be, sin entered the world and man-and-woman were on their own. It was not knowledge that got them ejected from their original home. It was the obsession with the knowledge of evil vs. its counterpoint of good, and choosing evil over the presence of the option of good.... ie. the proverbial apple was good to eat and hey! You gotta try this! Let’s see if we can get more. Seems harmless enough. I didn't die....yet ( it is said that addicts don’t have a drinking problem, they have a thinking problem). They (Adam and Eve) had discovered the difference between a choice born of dependence upon the Father (life) and an independent and separate action from their Father (sin) and its consequences, death).

So in looking at knowledge in this light, I bring chocolate into the conversation. Before I knew chocolate in all its glory, I had no need for self-control over chocolate. I had a need for self-control in other areas, but to my mind at that point, which had neither memory nor experience of the delectable sweetness known of as chocolate, self-control was completely unnecessary.

BUT!!!! Afterwards… after my first experience with chocolate, the actual knowledge that chocolate existed and that I did indeed LIKE chocolate, self-control over chocolate became a necessary next step (and an important one) as I tend to gain a boatload of weight when my desire for all things chocolate gets out of control (It is quite common actually, especially in Whiskey drinkers, for sweets and things like dark chocolate to become a replacement of sorts, for the massive amounts of sugar and carbs that are no longer being consumed).

We know something. Or rather, we learn something. That something is knowledge. We then have to move forward with that knowledge and decide what it is we are going to do with said knowledge. Will it rule us? Or will we control the knowledge, each in our own respective walks.

So you see, in my mind character development and integrity are very much a progression born upon the building blocks of other personality traits, all working together to build the personality, the individual, we are to become.

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