While cleaning my desk, I found a notebook from a few years ago where I’d listed 10 qualities or human 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.)
It’s interesting to consider what I chose as most reflective of my values.
Art is a capability that’s so human; it’s at the heart of being human. It explores our questions, yearnings, reflections, interpretations, and fine qualities. It’s a way to bring more beauty and insight into the world, stir us out of numbness, and remind us that even in the mundane there’s much to think about or appreciate. I also love seeing how the same subject – a tree, a bedroom – can be depicted so differently depending on the artist.
Art includes writing, painting, music, and dance, but also has other forms. You can make an art of living your life well or thinking in complex ways. When done with creativity and care, various activities can become an art.
I see benevolence as a recognition that most people are just muddling along trying to do their best; by-and-large, they’re capable of various kindnesses and good deeds. I think a benevolent attitude can curb pettiness and help fortify you when you’re swamped by the horrible news and rumors that go flying around the Internet and other media.
Benevolence doesn’t mean being naive. People can be dangerous and abusive. But as a day-to-day attitude, you aren’t keeping your focus trained exclusively on flaws. You aren’t eager to condemn people or deny them humanity. 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 sometimes 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 speech and actions.
When the mind is supple and your thoughts are more 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 thinking is 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 conclusion?) 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 says nothing about your natural disposition towards something, just how good you are at it now. You can improve by practicing, working with excellent teachers, and developing discipline, even if you aren’t a genius.
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 preserve sanity and make difficult days more bearable.
Why do we live? What are we doing with our lives? The meaning (or meanings) of your life will not always be clear. But meaning gives shape to life and purpose. 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 or compensate you for your own flaws. So 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).
I don’t limit worthiness to recognition 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 intellectually, morally, spiritually, and physically.