The formal definition of personality includes our habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and relating to others. Most of us understand that people differ in certain characteristics … What most people fail to realize is that the qualities we value – kindness, tolerance, capacity for commitment – are not randomly distributed. They tend to exist as constellation of “traits” that are recognizable and reasonably stable over time. Likewise, those attributes of character that are less desirable – impulsivity, self-centeredness, quickness to anger – often cluster in discernible ways. Much of our difficulty in developing and sustaining personal relationships resides in our failure to recognize, in ourselves as well as in others, those personality characteristics that make someone a poor candidate for a committed relationship.
What would be equally useful, I think would be a manual of virtuous character traits that describes qualities to nurture in ourselves and to seek in our friends and lovers. At the top of the list would be kindness, a willingness to give of oneself to another. This most desirable of virtues governs all the others, including a capacity for empathy and love. Like other forms of art, we may find it hard to define, but when we are in its presence, we feel it.
What would you include on your list of virtuous character traits?
Source: Livingston, Gordon (2004). Too soon old, too late smart: Thirty true things you need to know now. Philadelphia, PA: DaCapo Press.