A woman of virtue

My primary 2020 resolution is to be a stronger, more confident me. As part of that goal, I am working to identify my strengths and weaknesses, using the book “Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification” as my guide. The book has identified 24 character strengths which are organised into a set of six “virtues”: (1) Wisdom and knowledge, (2) courage, (3) humanity, (4) justice, (5) temperance, and (6) transcendence. This post serves as a sort of “benchmark” review of how I fare on the list of strengths at the start of the year so that I have something to compare my progress with at the end of the year.

The strengths and virtues covered in the book are based on traits that are common across all major religions and philosophies in the world. However, the authors recognise that different cultural traditions approach them differently based on societal norms and value systems. It is understood that these character strengths and virtues exist in degrees. It’s not expected that anyone one person will shine in all of the traits simultaneously or at full capacity. Which, of course, makes sense: Our strengths and weaknesses will change as our life changes. We will make great strides, and we will take great tumbles. What’s important is that we work to the best of our abilities at any given time.

This is key to my own life’s goals: I am acting to the best of my ability at any given time.

For me, that means I will try to take into account all of the circumstances surrounding my life when I review my strengths (or weaknesses). A moment of weakness or human frailty one day doesn’t negate a larger pattern of strength and perseverance. Instead, I need to remember that I am merely human and that today’s moment of defeat will soon be overshadowed by a renewed sense of hope. In practice, that might mean that my ability to offer forgiveness might be weaker when I am first hurt, and stronger once I have processed the pain. Or it might be that I struggle to be hopeful in the midst of adversity. But, again, that only makes me human.

The changing nature of such things means I can’t just have a check-list of traits that I can mark “complete” as I work towards my goal of being stronger and more confident. Instead, I need to have a way to compare the progress I’ve made in my own being over the course of the year. And, eventually, I will be able to develop a measurement tool that allows me to reflect on my state of virtue over the years.

But how can I measure something so abstract?

The answer is both simple and (potentially) complex: I need to undertake an honest review now that can act as a benchmark for comparison later. That, in addition to other forms of “evidence” such as a review of my 2020 journal, blog posts, and weekly/monthly task lists (with highlights and lowlights for each week/month) should help to show how much stronger I’ve grown over the course of the year.

Well, that’s the plan at least!

I have decided to use a simple Likert Scale to note where I fall on the spectrum for each of the 24 character strengths. I’m using the following scale points: Very Frequently; Frequently; Occasionally; Rarely; and Very Rarely. I won’t use “never” because I know that I posses at least some level of all of the strengths (most people do).

But because I know that I will be more honest with myself if I keep my scaled points private (ego!!), I am just sharing a brief summary here. This way, I can reflect back on the narrative of my review in the future, alongside my personal rankings.

(1) The Virtue of Wisdom and Knowledge

Accompanying character strengths: Creativity; Curiosity; Open-mindedness; Love of learning; and Perspective and wisdom

I feel that I excel quite well here, and manage all of the strengths very frequently. My on-going quest for knowledge and learning is driven by my passion for understanding the world in which I live. But that’s not to say I can’t work to improve over the course of the year. In fact, I think that the strength that I need to develop most is that of creativity. Or rather, I need to prioritise my creative time more often, and I need to recognise that my creativity plays an important role in how I approach learning and knowledge sharing.

(2) The Virtue of Courage

Accompanying character strengths: Bravery; Persistence; Integrity; and Vitality

Courage. That’s a hard one! I think that’s because, whilst I know that I act with bravery more often than not, I am quite afraid of taking brave steps. I don’t look at bravery as being brave, but rather I view it as doing what needs to be done, even when you are afraid. But yes, I do a lot of very brave things. And persistence? Well, that strength is what has helped me to do all of the brave things I am afraid of. Although, sometimes my persistence leads to stubbornness, which is more of a weakness than a strength. Integrity towards others is very important to me, and I hold myself to a fairly high level of moral principles. And I expect others to act with integrity, too.

But vitality? That is something that I am lacking these days. I feel that life is quite overwhelming right now, more so as there are so many uncertainties about my future. I don’t know where I’ll be working or living come June, and that means that I am unable to feel excited and alive with energy. So that is certainly a strength that I will need to work on this year.

(3) The Virtue of Humanity

Accompanying character strengths: Love; Kindness; and Social intelligence

Ah, humanity. I like to think that I have quite a lot of humanity, and that I am continually working to be better. Kindness is probably the strength in this group that I am best at. It’s easy to be kind, and it’s easy to be kinder with each passing day. Social intelligence is fairly easy, too. It goes hand-in-hand with kindness in some ways, —— . But love? That’s a hard one for me. Don’t get me wrong: I can feel love and there are people in my world whom I love very much. But I am afraid of love, too. I am afraid to allow myself to be vulnerable to the pain that love can bring. I can feel myself holding back, and I know that I avoid dating because I don’t want to risk love. Or, rather, I don’t want to risk hurting.

(4) The Virtue of Justice

Accompanying character strengths: Being an active, socially responsible citizen; Fairness; and Leadership

Yes, I am a leader! And a strong one at that. And I work really hard at being fair, and treating others with fairness. When combined with my leadership skills, my fairness helps me to be a better leader and (I hope) makes people more willing to follow my lead. Where I stumble in the virtue of justice is being an active citizen. Don’t get me wrong: I vote, I attend political rallies, I pick up litter, I donate to charity, I am environmentally aware, and I advocate for others. But I could do more. And I probably should do more.

I think that I can probably work a lot harder at being a stronger and more active voice of social responsibility. I can become more involved in grassroots organisations; I can make myself available to volunteer my time in service to others in the community. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I will work to identify some potential activities that I can undertake.

(5) The Virtue of Temperance

Accompanying character strengths: Forgiveness and mercy; Humility and modesty; Prudence; and Self-regulation and self-control

Forgiveness and mercy are hard things to give, more so when the hurt is still raw. But I like to think that I manage to get there in time. Sometimes, I am probably too quick to forgive; too merciful to wrong-doers. And other times, I am probably too slow. But I do get there. And prudence? Yes, I am quite prudent in most things. Maybe too much so, as my caution prevents me from taking opportunities that are offered to me. In the end though, I think that my prudence is a good thing; a self-preservation thing.

Humility and modesty are things that I am always trying to work on. Not because I’m not humble or modest enough, but rather because I struggle to find the balance between humble and pride; modest and bragging. I know that I need both sides, and I know that being too humble and modest has lost me opportunities in my life, just as being too proud and braggard has. So, the goal here is not to “improve”, but rather to find harmony on the spectrum.

And then there’s self-regulation and self-control. And this is a big problem of mine! I like to be in control. I like to set a task or a challenge and I like to succeed. And sometimes, I push myself too hard, too far, and too fast because of this. It’s why I struggle with counting calories. It’s why I am far too frugal at times. And it’s why I find myself getting a little crazy with controlling silly and pointless things about myself. So where my weakness lies is not that I don’t have the ability to control or regulate, it’s that I can’t MODERATE myself. Which means that I need to work on allowing myself to be less controlling of myself.

(6) The Virtue of Transcendence

Accompanying character strengths: Appreciation of beauty and excellence; Gratitude; Hope; Humour and playfulness; and Spirituality

Ah, transcendence! This is a virtue that I do fairly well with. I notice and appreciate the world around me, and find bliss when nature’s beauty is resplendent with whimsy. I enjoy being and acting funny and playful. (Yes, I am just a great big child!) And I am full of hope and faith and gratitude. But these things are not always easy for me. Sometimes, especially when my grief is taking over my soul, I struggle to realise these traits. I think that’s why they are so important to me, and why I work so hard on finding beauty and whimsy in the world – it helps me to forget my grief for a moment.

Whilst this is an “easy” one to work on, it is also one of those areas of my life that I have to keep working on. For if I stop trying to hold these strengths, then my grief will outshine the joys in my life. And that is not the person I want to be. So not only is this an area I have been working on in earnest since my life took the path of widowhood, it is also the area that I will have to work on for the foreseeable future. However, I can honestly say that it’s gotten easier over the years. And, I hope, it will get easier the more I work on it.

And that is where I am today. I know that I have greater strength of character than I think I do, but I also know that there is always room for improvement.

It is my sincere hope that I will be able to improve on these traits over the course of the year. And it is my sincere believe that by improving myself, I will be a stronger and more confident me.

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