While cleaning my desk, I found a notebook from a few years ago where I’d listed 10 qualities or capabilities I admire.
They came from a site that displays dozens of these words and asks you to pick a smaller subset that represents what you value most. (Something like that – I don’t remember the site or the specific instructions.)
Here’s what I chose as most reflective of my values.
There are many things I love about art. I love seeing how the same subject – a tree, a bedroom – can be depicted so differently depending on the artist. I love the skills involved, the creativity, and the possibilities. We can take something for granted or overlook it – but art can make it interesting and beautiful, disturbing and thought-provoking.
I see benevolence as a recognition that most people are just muddling along trying to do their best; for the most part, they aren’t thoroughly awful.
Benevolence doesn’t mean being naive. People can be dangerous and abusive. But as a day-to-day attitude, you aren’t focusing exclusively on flaws. You aren’t eager to condemn people. You can make judgments but leave room for doubt, realizing that you may need to revise your opinion, because there’s a limit to what you know.
I’ve struggled with taking carefulness too far to the point of inaction, so I need to pay closer attention to what I’m being careful about and why. (Being careful about carefulness.)
That said, I value carefulness because it can prevent so much pain, whether physical injuries from accidents or damaged relationships from careless words. Carefulness is one sign that you treasure someone or something. It’s also a sign of discipline. It curbs the tendency towards impulsive, thoughtless actions.
When your mind is supple and your thinking is clear, life is better. It’s painful to live in a mental fog with poor focus and memory, or in a state of brooding where your thoughts are distorted and repetitive.
A key part of clear-mindedness is an ability to reflect on your own thinking. You’re checking in with yourself from time to time. (Am I being too rigid in my thinking or too quick to arrive at a conclusion? What’s the basis of my opinion?) It takes an effort to think about your thinking, and it’s not something you can do every minute. But you need to make time for it; it may help keep you from getting swept away by mob mentality or fads.
Competence is a decent, no-frills quality. It doesn’t emphasize buried talents; it’s about how good you are at something now, and no empty boasting is allowed. Even if you aren’t a genius, you can improve at something by practicing, working with excellent teachers, and developing discipline.
It’s also a sign of respect; you’re taking your responsibilities seriously and doing your best not to let yourself and other people down.
Fortitude means keeping courage, faith, and a good character – as best you can – even when you’re facing serious problems.
How can you build fortitude? What makes you more resilient? If you lose your strength, in what ways can you restore it? These are all questions I return to.
Creativity, invention, seeing possibilities, making plans – all of these involve imagination. And figuring out how another person is thinking or feeling calls on empathic imagination. Those are all reasons I value this quality so much. It can also help make difficult days more bearable.
Why do we live? What are we doing with our lives? The meaning (or meanings) of your life won’t always be clear. But meaning gives shape and purpose to life. The alternative is to drag along in quiet despair or just react to things in an impulsive, animalistic way.
There are multiple ways to rely on yourself, but the one I’m thinking of relates to emotional maturity. You don’t need other people to distract you from your own flaws. You don’t look for scapegoats or someone to pick on to make yourself feel better. You don’t keep vomiting your anger, fear, or disgust on whoever it is you’ve designated as a receptacle for your emotions.
With self-reliance, you have your own reserves of strength and better ways of coping with your problems (not mindlessly projecting them onto other people).
Worthiness isn’t limited to the recognition you receive from others, because other people may not always recognize your worth. I see it as honoring yourself, striving as best you can to treat yourself with respect and act on opportunities that will help you flourish.