In my readings on the development of the consumer society, I have come across this claim that in the first decades of the twentieth century the “self” constructed by that society changed. In the 19th
century, so goes the claim, “character” was cultivated; in the 1920’s however one can begin to see a change towards the cultivation of “personality.”
I may be wrong but I think that I did have some exposure to the cultivation of character as late as the 1950’s in the rural South. After all, your average farmer tried to sell his crops, not his personality.
Character, of course, was cultivated first though the Bible, but I believe also that it was passed along in short sayings.
Waste not, Want Not.
A stitch in time, saves nine.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
Money doesn’t grow on trees.
If wishes were horses beggars would ride.
A place for everything and everything in its place.
Benjamin Franklin—a key figure in Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism—cooked up a good number of these sayings (including some of the above); additionally:
Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.
Buy what thou hast no need of and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessities.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
God helps those who help themselves.
These are fairly mundane sayings, practical in their import. They are also doable by the individual. Take care of the small things—not only because not doing so may lead to disaster—but because these small things are things a person can do. And partly because they are things an individual can do, a person with character might be said to be self-activating. He or she internalizes the rules of character and acts upon them (without reference to how these actions are perceived by others).
Driving today, while out shopping, I noticed that I turn on my turn signals, no matter what. I am for example moving from the right lane to the left and though—I notice—there is no one in sight in either direction, I still signal I am moving into the left lane.
This might be a sign of character or perhaps of dumb habit.
I welcome other sayings. I think I remember Grandmother Tingle saying, "Sweep the corners and the center will take care of itself."
Oh, Brother Steve would like to know the names of all our first cousins. Not a small matter. I have a partial list in my head. If any one has a complete list, could you please post it and I will put it in an entry so all can refer to it, as occasion dictates.