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2007-02-05 3:15 p.m.

the virtues

The other day I was thinking about what personal qualities I think are most important for a person to have. I've read the Tao Te Ching too many times to like the word "virtue," but I don't know what else to call them. Anyway, here's what I came up with.

1. Empathy. It seems to me that the extent to which you have this is the extent to which your actions are constructive, and the extent to which you lack it is the extent to which your actions are destructive. This is the foundation that ensures that your energies, be they great or small, are channeled into a good course. I don't really like the terms "compassion" or "kindness," because those words are often just used as a cover for trying to force your worldview on other people. Empathy won't let you get away with that.

2. Intelligence. This is number two, because if you've got enough of this you can most likely obtain or make up for most any other quality you might want. Empathy points you in the right direction, but intelligence will be the engine that takes you where you want to go. This includes skepticism, which is absolutely essential in order to properly evaluate a world full of so much contradictory information, to understand that oversimplifications and generalizations are as dangerous as they are convenient. It also includes creativity, which will help you find a way from A to B if no way exists or help you find a better way if one does. Curiosity is also included, which is helpful for gathering and retaining information.

3. Honesty. I think if you've got enough empathy and intelligence this will come pretty naturally; it's really kind of a parenthetical addition to them. This includes both intellectual honesty, without which intelligence is really just cunningly disguised stupidity, and general honesty, which is necessary for personal relationships and society as a whole to function smoothly and harmoniously. My general rule of thumb is try to act in such a way that if everyone else made the same types of choices in similar situations, the world would be the way I'd like it to be.

4. Determination. Okay, if empathy is your map/compass/roadsign/GPS/north star/dowsing rod and intelligence is your engine, then determination would be your fuel. This includes work ethic and the willingness to persevere in spite of failure. The value in having arrived somewhere is often in direct proportion to the amount of this that was required to get there.

5. Confidence. Continuing on with our automotive metaphor, if intelligence is your engine and determination is your fuel, confidence (with adequate honesty additives) will determine your fuel efficiency. I don't really like the word optimism, which all too often seems to be at odds with honesty, but the fact remains that believing you will be successful goes a long way in actually achieving that success.

Anything to add?

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