One day as I was reading a book on the art of screenwriting, I came across a passage that intrigued me. It was in the section dealing with how to construct characters within a screenplay, and the passage ran something like this: “The quality of a character is revealed through choice. The higher the stakes involved in the choice, the greater the revelation of character.” That idea has remained with me since then, not only as a tool for defining characters in my own screenplays, but also as a tool for living.
But what does this idea of choice mean, exactly? Well, let’s look at an example. Pretend, for a moment, that your life is a movie, and you are the hero, (or at least a significant character, hopefully) and you are presented with a choice: will you wear a black hat or a white hat? Now, old Western movies aside, as far as choices go this one is fairly insignificant. Why? Because the stakes are insignificant. What do you have to lose or gain by choosing a white or a black hat? So, no matter what you choose, the revelation of your character will be minimal, and the screenwriter of your life will simply put “Wearer of black/white hats” under your list of character traits.
If we change the scenario, however, we can see a much greater revelation of character. You, along with several other people, are captured by a color-obsessed criminal master-mind named Chroma. (Seriously? Who’s writing this movie, anyway?) He splits the hostages into two separate rooms and offers them a sadistic choice: they can choose either a black hat or a white hat. If you choose a black hat and step through the far exit, you are free to go but someone in the other room will die. If you choose the white hat and step through the exit, you must fight your way through Chroma’s cronies and will probably die, but if you make it he will free the rest of the hostages. (Forgive the contrived nature of the plot.) So, what do you choose? Black or white hat? Then, depending on your choice, the screenwriter of your life can write down something more substantial underneath your character: will it be “hero” or “coward?” Will it be “selfless” or “selfish?”
So we must see that choice is vitally important in shaping us as people. It is not necessarily our abilities, or our clothes, or the food we eat, or even what we say we would do which really define us as who we are. It is those choices where we have much to lose and nothing to gain by doing the right thing that decides whether or not our names will fall under “Hero” when that Great Writer opens up the Book of Life. “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17) Many people will excuse their actions by saying: “Well, I’m actually a nice person underneath. That’s not who I really am.” Yet I have come to see that it really is our choices that shape us. Every action we perform begins in the soul and thus what we choose does reveal who we are. To quote one of my favorite movies: “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
Our Writer made us as free creatures: He gave us that great power of Choice. Yet what we do with that power is up to us. But, for us, as cinematic as our lives might be, the quality of our characters does not usually come down to one, climactic, defining choice. It is the choices we make every day that shape our souls, and that make us strong enough to make that one ultimate choice when it comes. Aristotle, even though he was not a screenwriter, said it best: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not a single act, but a habit.” Choice, then, is not merely a toss-up between arbitrary options. It is the very means by which we define ourselves. So how will you define yourself? Warrior or Weakling? Hero or Villain?
The choice is yours.