From time to time, accounts burst into the news of regular, everyday people who unexpectedly do hideous things. They commit crimes that shock their communities and stun even individuals who know them extremely well. Parents, spouses, relatives, friends, neighbors, work colleagues, and others who have close, even intimate, relationships with these people are at a loss to understand what has happened. When they learn of the crime while watching the evening news or reading the morning newspaper, their first thought is that the person they know could not possibly be the perpetrator because it is totally “out of character.”
The theme of my next several blogs is that people always respond in character. It is impossible for a person to do otherwise. You cannot be other than who you are. The “out of character” crime can be understood only by figuring out what the character of the alleged perpetrator truly is.
It takes a very long time to know the many dimensions of an individual’s personality well enough to assess accurately what is “in character.” What a person presents publicly often differs radically from what he is like privately. The brilliant and compassionate doctor who has taken care of us for years might not be so admirable if we lived with him.