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  • Writer's pictureDr. Christine Senn, PhD

Character Strengths: Humanity

I'm wearing red today because we're talking about love. I don't normally dress in theme, but really – what is the color of wisdom or temperance? So, this was my first opportunity to dress for the theme, to be fair.

Today, we're talking about the virtue of Humanity and it's a short one. There are only 3 character strengths that are part of it. None of these particularly apply to business over any other domain of someone's life; they really are about being a good person. I want to be clear that all of the character strengths are positive, and they all contribute to society. You’ll notice that these three in particular, however, are quite other-person-centered. Humor, for example, can add levity to someone's life by making them happier, but some of the others don't. Like, you could appreciate beauty or excellence and not express it through gratitude. You could have gratitude and not express it. These are very specifically about an expression. So, let's go over them and feel at one with how we embrace these in order to be the best versions of ourselves. I think about that with all the character strengths.

The first character strength discussed is love. There are obviously many types of love. The Greeks named different types of love, which we failed to do in English (and I'm sure we failed to do in many other languages). I think that's a mistake. There are many types of love, but the definition here is great. “Love is marked by the sharing of support, comfort, and acceptance. It involves strong positive feelings, commitment, and even sacrifice.” Now I do believe that commitment is something very specific and wanting to sacrifice for someone is a certain level of love. Maybe it's love with a capital L. The other types of love though – you can show love to a stranger by supporting them and giving them aid, comforting them, accepting them. I think the opposites really show this because the opposite of love, the absence of reciprocated love, is clearly negative – “alienation, estrangement, loneliness. The opposite love of is even more so – hatred, loathing, spite, abhorrence.” I would venture to say we have all at some point felt alienated, estranged, and lonely. I think you would really have to hate someone to want them to feel that way, too. How do we help people not feel as lonely or estranged? Well, in the workplace or in high school, it would be about not having cliques, making everyone feel included, showing them that they are enjoyable to be around, and that you support them when you can. I said that like it's an easy thing to do and I appreciate that as it is not always easy to do. One of the things I've been thinking about over the past several months has been how transactional relationships can be, especially at the workplace. I'm certainly as guilty of this as anyone. We ask for something, we'd like that in return, someone does it, and we ‘like’ them well enough. Right? But to actually have compassion for someone, which we're going to see in the next one, is more humanity than just a transactional relationship.

The next character strength is kindness, which is defined as “generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, niceness.” This is, a little bit, what I was talking about toward the end of love, which is just doing good deeds for people. This character strength describes the “pervasive tendency to be nice to other people, to be compassionate and concerned about their welfare, to do favors for them, to perform good deeds, and to take care of them. Kindness can be a fleeting act directed towards strangers, or it can entail a profound gift within an established relationship.” From this, you can see that you could love someone and not necessarily nurture them or be kind. That would be a certain type of love. Maybe it wouldn't be the deepest love, or it would be a problematic love, but there is some distinction there. But if you love someone and you had a profound gift, like within the relationship you gave them something special, that's a very strong version of love. But kindness – I'm sure you have given your time to clean up a park, to go help feed strangers, or maybe you’ve given your time to a domestic abuse hotline. That is all kindness and it's about the welfare of others and trying to help others. The opposite of this is “selfishness, stinginess, or mean-spiritedness.” Now I'm sure none of us think of ourselves as mean-spirited, but we know people who are. I think that in the workplace we definitely do not want to be stingy with our compassion for people, even if we can't actually take care of everyone. Maybe we're not that close to people, but kindness can be an attitude. One person that I know I see this in all the time is our HR manager. She is just nurturing and caring about everybody, and she astonishes me. She is so high in this character strength that it's amazing. I'm sure you have people like that as well.

The last one is social intelligence, also called emotional intelligence. I know a couple of decades ago there were so many books about emotional intelligence and how important it is. More important than the other character strengths, in my opinion. It says, “the opposite of social intelligence is patently undesirable,” and some of the words they use are “clueless, self-deceived, lacking insight.” One of the things I was thinking about is how socially intelligent you have to be to use humor. To use humor to add levity to someone. Maybe your friend has a bad diagnosis, and you find a way to make them laugh. That's a gift, right? That's a gift that requires social intelligence, and that is why it is considered such a strong character strength. It's very much seen in attachment, leadership, and playfulness, so it really empirically showed up as a very strong character strength.

These are the character strengths of humanity and I find it inspirational to reread this section every once in a while to remind myself that life is not made up of transactions with other people, but about really connecting with people on a humane and deep level.

Further Reading:  

Character Strengths and Virtues by Drs. Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004)  

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