Blog #56 – Character strengths – Part 4
Last time, we detailed 12 of the 24 character strengths eventually deemed eligible for inclusion in the VIA classification. Those strengths were assigned to three of the six core virtues identified earlier in the process as being valued across cultures in different parts of the world – wisdom, courage, and humanity. Today, we will highlight the other 12 strengths, those assigned to the justice, temperance, and transcendence umbrella headings.
Strengths of justice are described as being broadly social and relating to how individuals interact with groups or the wider community.
- Fairness: In this context, fairness is taken as referring to not letting personal feelings influence decisions about others, and treating all people in a just manner.
- Leadership: Here, we are referring to the skill of being able to encourage a group of which you are a member to get things done, while at the same time fostering good relations within the group. In other words, there is more to effective leadership than merely telling people what to do, as anyone who has ever had a poor manager in the workplace will know all too well.
- Teamwork: It will not surprise you to learn that here we are referring to an individual’s capacity to work well as a member of a group or a team. As set out in the VIA manual, it also encompasses loyalty to the group and doing your share of whatever work needs to be done.
Strengths of temperance are held to protect us from excess in its varied forms, e.g., hatred, arrogance, short-term pleasure with long-term negative consequences, and destabilising emotional extremes.
- Forgiveness/Mercy: Being able to forgive those who do you wrong; being willing to give people a second chance (though perhaps not a ninth or tenth chance!); not being vengeful.
- Modesty/Humility: Here, the focus is on being able to let your accomplishments speak for themselves, not feeling any great need to chase the spotlight, and not thinking of yourself as being more special than you are.
- Prudence: In this context, prudence means being consciously careful about the choices you make on a daily basis, i.e., not taking undue risks. This can go beyond actions and includes the things you say. So, it is not merely about having the capacity to avoid impetuously (or otherwise) doing things you might regret later, but also refraining from saying things you may come to wish you hadn’t.
- Self-regulation: This refers to having a sense of discipline about how you live your life, being able to regulate how you feel, and controlling your appetites and emotions.
Entries under the strengths of transcendence heading share the theme that they each allow individuals to make connections with the larger universe, and arising from that facilitate a sense of meaning in life.
- Appreciation of beauty and excellence: This refers to the capacity to notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and skilled performance in the various domains of life, i.e., from nature to art to science to everyday experience. This appears to imply a certain level of mindfulness, as it seems predicated upon the assumption that individuals who exemplify this strength are able to be sufficiently present in the moment (as opposed to wrapped up in the often frantic nature of modern life and slipping into a kind of cognitive auto-pilot) to properly heed what is around them.
- Gratitude: This is one of the entries that needs little elaboration, beyond stating that it refers to being aware of and grateful for the good things that happen in life, but also making a point of taking the time to express thanks.
- Hope: This refers to having the belief that a positive future can be achieved and then working to bring it about, i.e., expecting the best.
- Humour: Again, one of the entries that almost describes itself. People rich in humour enjoy seeing the light side, like to laugh and tease, and derive pleasure from making others smile.
- Religiousness/Spirituality: Here we are referring to having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe. It is important to stress that whether such beliefs are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is not the point, what matters in this context is that individuals who possess such beliefs can use them as scaffolding for the cultivation of a sense of meaning and purpose in life, with this then shaping conduct and offering comfort against the inevitable trials life presents us with.
With the classification finalised, the next step was to bring it to a wider audience and expose it to a public who might benefit from its insights. Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that this process involves a questionnaire designed to measure how each participating individual rates on the 24 strengths, e.g., is hope your number one strength and/or do you fare poorly on self-regulation?
Anyone interested in completing this questionnaire can do so for free online. It is available on the VIA Institute on Character website: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths.
Next time, we will look at whether or not the research evidence suggests Peterson and Seligman succeeded in their goal of creating a universal classification, i.e., one that would be just as applicable for an individual completing the questionnaire in Belgium as Botswana or Ireland as India. And we will also look at what an individual might seek to do with the knowledge they acquire on their key character strengths having completed the questionnaire.
Dr. Mark Barry
Mark Barry was awarded a PhD by University College Cork in 2015 for his research into adolescent well-being. He has lectured psychology at UCC since 2013 and is also a freelance writer.