How to Pay More Attention to Character than Image

woodenmirrormuseumThe Penn State scandal has underscored a fundamental issue that is present in far too many of us:

Some of us are more concerned about the image we project than the kind of person we really are.

I once heard the story of a couple that purchased a house in an exclusive neighborhood north of Dallas.  They moved into the house and immediately put up coverings over each window.  Months later this couple was arrested and indicted for their participation in some fraudulent scheme.  Authorities came to their home and discovered that the house was basically empty.  They had a cardboard table, a couple of folding chairs, a television, and a single mattress.

The story revealed that the couple had sold their previous home and belongings.  They moved into this exclusive neighborhood to create the impression that they were doing quite well financially.  This home was way beyond their means, and they were able to live there only after selling all their belongings.  Neighbors noticed they never opened their blinds or curtains.  That was because they didn’t want anyone to see that the house was practically empty.

Some people are willing to do most anything to create a particular kind of image.  Image, however, is not a substitute for character.

Image people want to appear cool wherever they are.  If they are on the road traveling with business associates, they want to appear totally with whatever is happening.  If they are at church, they want to appear to be the devoted family person.  Image wants others to know they are “in.”

Image people want others to think they are not lacking in any way.  They may make statements to their family members such as:

  • You don’t want people to think we can’t afford to buy nice things.
  • You don’t want people to think we buy cheap clothes.
  • You don’t want people to think we can’t go on great trips.
  • You don’t want people to think we don’t get invited to nice parties.
  • You don’t want people to think we live in an old neighborhood.
  • You don’t want people to think our kids are not as good as theirs.

Image people are far more concerned with the way they appear than the way they are.  Their Facebook status always communicates that they live one awesome, glorious life every moment of the day.  Really?

They are more concerned about the way others perceive them than the reality of their lives.  This is one reason why a person’s public and private persona can be so different.

Focusing on our image while we neglect our character is like having a manicured lawn around our home while we neglect the cracking foundation.  The house may look appealing at first glance but may be in serious trouble due to a neglected foundation.

The following are suggestions for living out of your character instead of focusing on your image.  These are three ways to keep from living a phantom life.

1.  Be aware of the impact your own insecurity has on you.  Recognize and admit your insecurity instead of trying to mask it with what makes you feel adequate for the moment before others.  Pray about your insecurity, admitting before God the truth about the way you feel and think.

2.  Address your character.  It is fine to have a nice lawn, but get very intentional about addressing the foundation.  Deal with your own character.  First address the cracks.  Ask your spouse to be honest with you about behaviors and attitudes that surprised her/him.

  • It surprised me when you chewed out the woman at the Home Depot return desk.  I didn’t understand why you would treat her that way.
  • It surprised me that you would want to go to that place with your friends.
  • It surprised me when you lied about the age of our daughter at the ticket gate at Six Flags.  You seemed to rationalize this.
  • It surprised me that you didn’t think your friend’s affair was a big deal.  It made me nervous to hear you justify it.

Now of course, it would be easy to become defensive after hearing one or more of these.  However, hearing this from your spouse may give you a clue about where the cracks in the foundation might be.

3.  Suppose two movies were made of your life.  One movie portrays you the way you would like to be seen: a perfect image.  The second movie, however, is a documentary of the reality of your life (what you do when others are not looking or when only certain people are looking).  How different would these two movies be?


In ways do many of us feel pressure to present a particular image?  What are some ways you have nurtured your character?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “How to Pay More Attention to Character than Image

  1. Thanks for your post. I’ve been thinking lately about the ways in which I try to project a certain image–not necessarily through fancy clothes or a nice job, but through a lack of openness with those around me. It is so easy to try to hide or make excuses for my faults, to veil my worries, and even mask joy for the opportunity to fit in.

    I’ve been praying lately that I would grow to be more transparent with the people God has placed in my life…I’m learning that it comes down to trusting God, rather than worrying about the responses of others.

  2. Thanks very much. Thank you for sharing with us something about your own reflection regarding this issue. In hearing you reflect, it is easier for me (and I suspect others) to see similar behaviors in myself.

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  4. I greatly appreciate the focus on character over image. In fact, my blog is all about character over image (though my focus tends to be on character over personal appearance, as opposed to reputation). I just hope that next time you can write without assuming that everyone has a spouse to help them with character development or anything else for that matter.