Blog #55 – Character strengths – Part 3
Having done the necessary background work over the last two entries, today we will begin to detail the strengths deemed to have met the necessary criteria for inclusion in the VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues.
As mentioned previously, the preliminary work identified six core virtues that seem to be valued and respected more or less equally throughout the world, thus transcending cultural differences and geographical boundaries: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.
Candidate strengths that belong under each heading were then assessed against twelve individual criteria – as detailed last time – with each needing to tick every box in order to be deemed eligible for inclusion. Arising from that process, 24 individual strengths made the cut.
It is important to stress at this point that no special claims were made for these 24 strengths. Neither Martin Seligman, Christopher Peterson, nor anyone else involved in the process suggested that these are the ‘best’ strengths or somehow superior to those not included. More correctly, they were deemed to be the most suitable for the task at hand, i.e., the creation of a universal classification. Had the criteria or the focus of the task been different, then some other strengths may well have merited inclusion.
For the purposes of the classification, strengths of courage were defined as involving the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, whether that be from an external or internal source. Strengths included under this heading were said to be corrective in nature, acting as a counterpart to a difficulty.
- Authenticity: This relates to the idea of being truthful, but more specifically about presenting yourself in a genuine way and being without pretence, while also taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
- Bravery: In this context, bravery refers to speaking up for what you believe is right, even in the face of opposition; acting on your convictions, even if that might prove unpopular; and not backing off from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain.
This seems like as good a place as any to note that the strengths and virtue highlighted here might not always manifest in positive ways. The negative potential associated with these strengths is more obvious with bravery than some others, e.g., sometimes it might be wiser to back away from a threat or challenge than to meet it head-on, and while acting on unpopular convictions might be brave, it may also be the path of the blinkered dogmatist or zealot.
The overall point being that, yes, some of the characteristics and traits associated with these strengths can present in negative ways, but our focus here is on the positive, and having acknowledged the less desirable side of things, we will proceed from here exclusively with the positive interpretations in mind.
- Persistence: This means finishing what you start, taking pleasure in completing tasks, and, crucially, maintaining your efforts even faced with obstacles.
- Zest: This refers to approaching life with excitement and energy, not doing halfway or half-heartedly, and approaching life as an adventure.
The focus of strengths under the wisdom and knowledge umbrella relates to the acquisition and use of information in service of the good life. The common denominator among these strengths is that they all relate to cognition, i.e., thinking.
- Creativity: Here, we mean creativity in the sense of having the capacity to think of novel and productive ways to do things. We sometimes think of creativity purely in terms of artistic achievement, but in the context of character strengths it can be seen in different domains.
- Curiosity: Taking an interest in the world around you, enjoying, exploring, and discovering, and finding a wide range of subjects and topics fascinating.
- Love of learning: Enjoying mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge. While at first glance this may seem similar to curiosity, it was deemed sufficiently different because love of learning goes further, implying a tendency to add systematically to what you know.
- Open-mindedness: Here, we are referring to the tendency to think things through from all sides, and to have a capacity to change your mind, rather than adopting a firm position and clinging to that belief no matter what evidence to the contrary is presented.
- Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel, and having ways of looking at the world that make sense both to you and others.
The strengths of humanity category is an umbrella for the kind of strengths that we might expect to see come to the fore in caring relationships with others.
- Kindness: Doing favours and good deeds for other people, and enjoying and being good at helping and taking care of others.
- Love: Here, we mean love in the context of valuing close relations with others, particularly when sharing and caring is reciprocated.
- Social intelligence: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and the self, knowing what to do to fit into different social situations, and knowing what makes other people tick.
Next time, we will detail the other twelve strengths and virtues that make up the classification, and then pose the necessary question: What can we as individuals do with this knowledge?
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.