My husband recently shared with me the details of a motivational talk given to his track team by a former athlete and current business woman. The importance of building a brand served as the centerpiece of her talk to the athletes. We agreed that it was very different from the motivational talks we heard as young athletes. Instead of being encouraged to build our brand, we were encouraged to build our character.

I like the language of character far more than the language of brands. Corporate language negotiates human value through marketplace logic; for me that diminishes the possible expressions of human richness. Money and what it can buy defines wealth in market terms. Character allows for a fuller portrait of what constitutes richness.

When character defines wealth, Philane Lawson offers a portrait of human richness. The homemade bread that she awoke to make at 4 a.m. reflects the offering that she could make to her family despite having little money. When character defines wealth, Pearl Fryer offers a portrait of human richness through his garden:

When character defines wealth, the man Morrison describes who “sits at the edge of a bank and fish all day” offers a portrait of human richness through his complex interior life.

If you’re actually developing a product for the marketplace, you might need to focus on building your brand, but building a life requires character.

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