Susan Cain (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Broadway Books, 2012) writes:
America has shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality…. In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. But [in the twentieth century we] embraced the Culture of Personality. Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining.
This shift over the past 100 years has had enormous consequences. It touches every sphere of American life. The narcissism of social media provides a stark example of the Culture of Personality. We project preferred images, carefully cultivated and cropped, to present ourselves as interesting, adventurous, or glamorous. Image is everything, and what lies behind the image (character marked by integrity, humility, generosity, and service) has quietly slipped off the radar.
This is no more evident than in politics right now. Some politicians are treating public service like a reality television show, full of theatrics, sound-bites, and superficiality. The Culture of Character has given way to the Culture of Personality.
Similarly, we see this playing out in some churches across the country. Pulpits are less and less filled with pastors who pray, promote holiness, and model the humble Presence of Christ among us. Instead, the celebrity pastor has become the ideal. Showmanship, entertainment, humor, and attractiveness (replete with plastic surgery, television make-up, and athletic builds) are everything. This cult of Personality subsumes the gospel and stymies the spiritual formation of the people.
This shift from the Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality also means that the loudest and proudest get the most attention. Quiet achievers get relegated to the backwaters. Fast-talking and long-talking has displaced thoughtful talking. The extrovert trumps the introvert every time. Leadership becomes linked to boldness and assertiveness.
But real leadership must never be so shallow. When character no longer counts, leadership can no longer be trusted. When personality and flamboyance become the measure of leadership, we sacrifice its legitimacy.
To all the introverts out there (many of whom tend to read blogs and listen to podcasts), your call to leadership is authentic. Receive it. Lean into it. Embrace it. Live it. Leadership is not measured by the momentary mania of the crowd, but by the long-term change of the people.
Character counts. Personality barely does. Let’s rise above superficiality. Let’s reject the Culture of Personality. Christ himself had little time for whitewashed tombs.
David Timms is Dean of the School of Christian Leadership at William Jessup University. Views expressed here are not necessarily those of the University.
October 16, 2018 at 5:33 am
Isn’t that the truth 😔
I choose not to be on FB, (or any Social Network) & just that one choice has made me a sort of ‘pariah’… I not only get very strange & defensive responses, I’ve heard negative words about not being part of the “in” crowd… I just turned 49 last week. Because I’m not on FB (which was the format I once chose) I had 2 Happy Birthday’s texted to me. The people I considered my best friends missed my birthday because a “computer didn’t tell them”… (PS – I’m guilty too, my loved ones birthdays are on my phone to remind me, but also a wall calendar…)
This post comes at a perfect time David, as I’ve been musing how many people I’ve lost touch with since leaving social media & moving 3,000 miles away…
I believe in a Culture of Character, more of my personal friends would have contacted me for my birthday (people I know in person who know my family & I know theirs – etc etc etc 😝). I preferred the times when morality was considered & respected – & I’ve seen the shift…
I’m a mix of an extrovert & an introvert. I’ve noticed over the years (especially having worked in the music & movie industry in NYC in my youth) the change in what is considered ‘acceptable’ behaviors & overtures…
It’s become disgraceful… (and let’s face it, I was around Rock Stars & Movie Stars, & it could be ‘disgraceful’🤪)
When churches remind me of my days in the Entertainment Industry, & there’s no message or move of the Holy Ghost in a Church, I believe a form of ‘witchcraft’ has deluded the pastors & congregation. So I like this post, of a shift from Cult of Character to Cult of Personality (or Culture of as you & Susan Cain are calling it).
I’ve heard the new term for this ‘era’ of ‘kids’ is the “Sound Bite Generation” because you can only hold a person’s attention for 3 seconds (I guess Milleniols & Generation X has a longer attention span… 😲!) so I have seen the sordid & aggressive attempts that people are now using to ‘out-do’ each other… Morality is hard to find, & with that ‘backdrop’, let me commend you & say-boy do I miss WJU… My time with you all is even more precious in this Cult of Personality…
Strong, honorable leaders – please stand up 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼
October 16, 2018 at 6:04 am
Heide, let me add a “Happy (belated) Birthday”, my ambivert friend. 🙂 Your reply highlights with great clarity just how disconnected our culture has become as it pursues image over character, and form over substance. The solution is not complicated, but it IS difficult in the face of this “personality tsunami.” May the Lord grant you great grace and joy as you lead others. Blessings!
October 16, 2018 at 7:38 am
Amen brother 🙏🏼
And thank you for the birthday wishes 😁
Blessings & joy back to you. Thank you for your leadership example. 🙏🏼
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October 16, 2018 at 8:14 am
David, I was tracking along with your blog until you generalized about the chatacteristics of extroverts and introverts. I agree that extroverts, by nature, are more outgoing and ready with an answer, but not all fit the negatives you outlined. My experience has been that there are introverts just as capable, and culpable, of demonstrating those traits as well.
October 16, 2018 at 11:02 am
Rich, I totally agree with you. As I’ve been pondering this, I wonder if the culture of personality (rather than character) has rewarded excessive extrovert behavior and driven some introverts either underground or into uncommon extrovert behaviors. When combined with our human propensity for pride, it can be a toxic mix for all of us in leadership.
October 16, 2018 at 11:47 am
Hi guys! May I comment on your absolutely enlightening point Rich???
I have noticed the “fake news” both introverts & extroverts have been almost “bullied” into acting ‘differently’ from their true self…
I believe ALL these distractions (the “PC Agenda”, “fitting in”, avoiding discrimination) are a tool used by the dark side to keep “us” in confusion & on defense – when as Born Again Christians, our hearts are turned toward Jesus & we would talk about the joys & blessings in our lives – but we have been “bullied” into this Culture of Personality instead of a Culture of Character…
Distraction… Keep the Christian’s eyes off Jesus. Push fear…
Great post Prof Timms, & great point Rich.
Thanks for letting me interject!!! 👍🏼
Blessings, and keep your eyes on Him, please, friends. 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼
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October 16, 2018 at 12:29 pm
I just did a teaching last night on taking captive every thought and part of it was recognizing and accepting that, as Christ followers, we live in an upside down kingdom as opposed to the world. I guess I’m an ambivert too! You really think the answer is easy, David? It should be but we’re certainly into the days of people being lovers of self. Truth can get lost in lights, camera, action, going to the young and pretty people. I hope that doesn’t sound too cynical but as I age, I’ve found the church to be one of the most discriminating places to grow older. (My challenge has become how to reinvent myself to be useful to a younger – sometimes much younger 😉 – generation, to teach and help them realize where authentic characteristics are learned.).
I’m really appreciating these topics, so thank you. A gut check is always good to make sure I don’t become part of the problem.
October 16, 2018 at 3:32 pm
Jan, I always appreciate your willingness to change and reinvent yourself. Easy answers to these things? I don’t think so. The culture of personality didn’t arise overnight. It built on complex factors. However, I suspect that the solution is not found in specifically unravelling cultural processes, but more deeply embracing Kingdom processes (as you suggest). 🙂
October 17, 2018 at 4:17 am
Very well written, thank you Dr Timms
October 17, 2018 at 8:34 am
Jason, thanks for the note. Plenty to think about on this topic! 🙂