"A talent can be cultivated in tranquility; a character only in the rushing stream of life." Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
I remember as a boy of twelve sitting alone at home practicing holding my fingers in the right positions on the fretboard of a classical guitar. The house was quiet and my soul was filled with the difficult efforts I was making.
Many talents can indeed be cultivated in solitude and in tranquility. But character requires more.
What we do in solitude and tranquility can contribute to our character, certainly, and powerfully, but most of its formation is due to how we respond to and grow from the rough and tumble of life. What Goethe called "the rushing stream" will carry us in one direction or the other.
I understand character as just the sum total of the inner strengths and weaknesses that we bring to any challenging situation. And these strengths and weaknesses result from many forces - heredity, upbringing, association, and mostly choice. How we choose to react to people and events over time will slowly form our character, for better or worse. And then it's that character which will empower or diminish us as we move forward to new challenges.
Long ago, the philosopher Heraclitus said, "Character is destiny." And that about sums it up. It's hard to rise above who you most inwardly are. Those of us who would accomplish great things should work to establish great foundations within. And, in the end, it's all about how we react to the good things and the bad things, to the opportunities, achievements, challenges, and disappointments that come our way today, and tomorrow.
Whenever I react to a situation in a way that I later regret, I try to pay attention to what led me to do that, and I work to avoid responding that way again. The more honest we can be with ourselves in evaluating our actions, the better we're prepared to cultivate character with strength.
To judge someone else's character, pay the most attention to how they act in "the rushing stream of life."