What is your most expressive characteristic and in what way do you express it?
My first reaction upon reading this prompt was to laugh and say “duh, I express myself through writing!” But “writing” isn’t a characteristic, it’s something I do. So then I had an existential crisis and wondered what the heck even is a characteristic and which characteristics do I have and express. The word has ceased to have meaning.
Thankfully I have access to a near-infinite network of information that could provide the meaning to me, as well as examples to kick start my brain again. A characteristic is simply a quality or a trait something possesses. Something like intelligence or faithfulness or selfishness in a person. It’s something that isn’t necessarily recognizable at first glance. It’s something deeper, that you have to get to know the person to be able to see it.
It was helpful for me to look at a list of character traits one might find to describe fictional characters in books or movies. Positive values like patience and optimism. Darker traits like dishonesty and abrasiveness. Heroic traits like courage and daring or villainous traits like deception and immorality. Even child-like traits, silliness, stubbornness, talkativeness, these are all characteristics people can have.
Okay, so now I need to figure out what some of my characteristics are. Despite the volumes I have written on this blog about myself, I do not actually like writing about myself. I just don’t think I’m that interesting personally; I just want to tell stories. It’s incredibly hard for me to brag about myself, which is why I loathe job hunting because it’s nigh impossible for me to update my resume. Humility is a characteristic, though probably not my most expressive one.
Stubborn is a strong contender. I definitely got a double dose of that from both parents, but I’m not sure I express it that often. (I should ask my husband, I’m sure he would tell me all the ways I express my stubbornness. Ha!)
I’m patient. Incredibly patient. Maybe too patient sometimes. (Add “patient” to the list with “characteristic” for words I’ve written too many times and have now ceased to have meaning.) But again, that’s just something I am, not really something I express.
I suppose, despite my own opinions of myself, I’m actually a very kind person. I’m not sure if my humility won’t let me acknowledge it despite the evidence to the contrary or if it’s some stupid mental block convincing me I’m actually a terrible person with nothing to support that conclusion. A twisted Imposter Syndrome that tells me all the random acts of kindness I do are only to make myself feel better and that I don’t actually care about the person(s) I am helping.
Of all my characteristics, it’s probably the one I express the most. I will give any extra cash I have floating around my car to panhandlers at my intersection if I’m stopped at the light long enough to give it to them. Not that I usually have any cash on me.
Once, though, I saw the guy waiting at the exit of the grocery store plaza on my way in. His sign requested shelter supplies so in addition to the handful of things I needed for myself, I got some travel-sized toiletries for him as well as a pre-made sandwich from the deli case and a couple bottles of water. I put it all in a separate bag and handed it to him at the light. I honestly don’t remember if we exchanged words other than “here you go/thank you” or if he even looked in the bag before I drove away, but it doesn’t matter. I had the means to help someone in need, so I did it without a second thought.
My kindness isn’t just reserved for strangers, of course. I will drop everything to come help a friend or family member in need. Last night I thought I was going to have to drive to MA to pick up my mother when her car died on the highway on her way home from a friend’s in RI. I immediately began planning contingencies for work (and the blog) and was ready to go if she needed me to. Everything worked itself out, one way or another, and I didn’t have to go, but I was ready.
“Okay Sara, but that’s your mom. You’re kind of obligated to help if you can.” True, kinda, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still an expression of kindness. Nor that I wouldn’t have offered if it was a friend instead of my mom. It was ~120 miles round trip and I would have gone in a heartbeat. Because that’s just part of who I am.
When my coworker got tragic news towards the end of the work day back at the beginning of the year, I didn’t even wait for her to ask me to give her a ride home. I told her to tell me when she was ready to go and I would take her. She lives about 20-25 minutes past my house and didn’t want me to drive out of my way home to take her, but I didn’t want her to try to drive herself or have to wait an hour for her husband or her neighbor to take her. I didn’t even think about it, I just did it.
She told me I was a good friend for doing that. She tells me that often when I do little kind things for her or others. But I don’t think of it that way. I guess my life philosophy is the Golden Rule. I treat others they way I hope they would treat me in similar circumstances. That means I do my best to be as kind as I can.
I’m not perfect. I get selfish. I get burnt out and sometimes shut down or lash out. I think or say things in frustration that I don’t really mean, and it’s those things that stick to my brain and convince me that I’m not as kind as I think I am. “Remember that time you thought those mean things about that person because you were upset? See! You’re totally not kind at all! Terrible! Horrible!” It’s a process.
Still, of all my characteristics, I’d say I express my kindness the most. And I do it with random acts to make others feel better.
What about you? What characteristics do you have? Do you express any of them? This is a really great prompt for character development, too. By thinking about ways you express your own characteristics, it’s easier to see how you could show those same characteristics in your characters.
Ok, that is the 18th time I’ve typed “character” (19) tonight and I refuse to type it again. Have a great night! I’ll see you tomorrow!
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