I often hear students use the word “character” when they actually mean to say “personality.” While they are similar, they are not exactly the same. Let me explain the difference…
Personality refers to someone’s distinctive way of behaving or engaging that you can quite easily see on the outside. It can be positive or negative. Also, personality is largely biological, which means it’s deeply impacted by your family genes, though it can also be influenced by one's environment.
Examples include: funny, warm, friendly, shy, outgoing, engaging, negative, positive, dominating, mean, aggressive, gentle, or serious.
Someone’s personality is not necessarily right or wrong. Friendly might seem better than serious, but both are okay. Of course, some personality traits like "positive" are generally viewed as better than "negative." And, as you’ll see below, different cultures may have different views about what makes something a personality vs. character trait.
Character refers more to someone’s inner heart and deeper morals. This can also be positive or negative, but is not easy to see because it is usually somewhat hidden below the surface. Character is an ethical belief system shaped mostly by a person’s environment, which means family, friends, community, culture, and religion.
Examples include: honest, dishonest, loving, generous, compassionate, self-centered, and devoted.
Some attributes may fall somewhere in between personality and character, depending on the culture or values of the person making the judgment.
For example, lazy and hardworking depend on one’s personal or cultural standards. In some cultures, like in Japan, someone may consider “lazy” as a character flaw because it is viewed as irresponsible and disloyal to the team. But in other cultures, “lazy” might be described as “relaxed,” which is actually seen as a good teammate trait because that person is not too serious. So, one culture may say, “She has a relaxed personality,” while other cultures might say, “She has lazy, irresponsible character.” Still, another culture might call that person “passive” or “inconsiderate.” It all depends on the person and culture.
A similar example is “independent.” In Japanese culture, independence may be seen as too free and inconsiderate of the group. However, in Western culture, independence may be considered to demonstrate positive curiosity and confidence. Again, it depends on the person and culture!
Characteristics are features that describe that which is typical of a person, place, or thing.
Quality usually refers to a positive aspect of a person or thing. The key here is “positive.”
Features, when referring to people, usually describe physical appearance such as big nose, tall, long hair, slim, dark skin, muscular, or bald. Features can also refer to non-humans such as places or things. Example: This car has an airbag feature.
Tendencies refer to how people often or usually behave, and they could be positive or negative. For example, some people have a tendency to talk a lot, be forgetful, be late, be early, give gifts, smile a lot, or make jokes. (Notice these are all verbs.) But keep in mind that a tendency is not something that describes what someone is always do. Instead, it describes how they often behave.
The most important thing to understand is that...
Personality consists of observable outer behavior patterns shaped more by genetics.
Character is less visible inner morals shaped by a belief system that is mostly received from one's environment and experience.
There is overlap with personality and character, depending on one's experience and culture. However, I believe that exposure to diverse cultures, people, and experiences can always influence a person to change their personality or character in various ways for better or worse.
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