In my new book, Virtuous Leadership: The Character Secrets of Great Leaders, I examined the nature of virtuous behaviors and good character is a foundation for great leaders is a great contrast to my previous book, Toxic Bosses: Practical Wisdom for Developing Wise, Ethical and Moral Leaders.
Much has been researched on the “Dark Triad” of leadership, which comprises narcissism, an inflated view of one’s importance, with a sense of entitlement and willingness to exploit others; psychopathy, high levels of impulsivity and thrill-seeking behaviour along with low levels of empathy; and Machiavellianism, the cynical tendency to pursue one’s interests by manipulating others.
More recently researchers have examined the opposite—the “Light Triad” which comprises Kantianism or treating people as ends unto themselves, not mere means; humanism or valuing the dignity and worth of each individual; and faith in humanity or believing in the fundamental goodness of humans.
What is Your Basic Believe About People?
Do you typically think the best of people or do you believe that everyone is out to get you? And in conversations, do you always be honest or do you like to play the charmer?
According to a team of psychologists who have developed a new method of examining positive personality traits, your responses to these questions help to some extent define how much of an “everyday saint” you are. It is advantageous to consider people and mankind as a whole as basically good and to treat them accordingly if you want to qualify.
Psychologists developed the now-famous “dark triad” of personality traits two decades ago to explain why some people don’t hesitate to cheat on a test or pick on someone weaker than them. Since then, scholars have focused on these three traits—narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy—looking at how they connect to a range of issues, such as marital problems, professional achievement, and even the seven deadly sins.
Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at Columbia University, believed it was time to tip the scales back in favour of the more positive aspects of our inner life. The fact that people are so attracted by the evil side while the light side of personality is being ignored, he said, “just really frustrates me.”
The “light triad” being studied by Kaufman and his associates is made up of three personality traits that collectively depict a person’s whole character. Each of the traits highlights a different aspect of how you interact with others, from seeing the best in people; being quick to forgive; applauding the successes of others, and being uncomfortable manipulating people into doing something you want.
Humanism, the first quality in the light triad, is described as a belief in the intrinsic value and dignity of other people. The second, known as Kantianism after philosopher Immanuel Kant, calls for seeing individuals as ends unto themselves rather than just as unsuspecting pieces in a game of chess. Finally, faith in mankind refers to the conviction that people are inherently good and do not intend to harm you.
The kindness of ordinary saints doesn’t merely help the rest of the world. According to Kaufman’s research, those who score highly on these characteristics reported feeling more content with their relationships and life in general, as well as having a higher sense of self-worth and self-confidence. High scores were also associated with a wide range of character traits, such as curiosity, perspective, zest, love, generosity, teamwork, forgiveness, and thankfulness.
Rather than being all light or all dark, though, most people will be a mix. On Kaufman’s website, you can take a test that will display your levels of both light and dark personality traits.
Although someone who scores strongly for light personality qualities is likely to score low for dark personality traits, it became obvious during Kaufman’s study that they are not truly in direct opposition to each other, reinforcing the idea that we’re all a little bit of both.
For instance, those with darker personalities are more likely to be daring and outspoken, two qualities that are helpful in certain situations. Additionally, creativity and leadership abilities are sometimes associated with darker dispositions.
Kaufman claims, “I believe that this duality is in all of us.” To maximize one’s creative potential, “embracing the dark side is a wonderful thing, and harnessing it healthily is more vital than pretending it isn’t there.”
The principle of staying true to yourself even if it harms your reputation is one aspect of Kantianism, for instance. Someone who lives that way will eventually face a circumstance where they must go against the wishes of others to remain true to themselves. Taking a stand is sometimes necessary for authenticity, according to Kaufman. “But you’re not doing it to attempt to influence someone.”
Consider the journalist and activist from the United States named Dorothy Day, who passed away in 1980. She dedicated her life to social justice and helping the underprivileged, founding “houses of hospitality” that offered those in need shelter, food, and clothing. Some have proposed that the Catholic Church ought to canonize her. She would not, however, have always been regarded as agreeable. She was deeply moral, had experienced poverty, and frequently lost friendships because of her opinions.
There’s a difference between healthy feelings of guilt triggered by our actions and unhealthy ruminations that are better thought of as shame. Even while guilt is generally unpleasant, it aids in helping people act in more suitable ways.
Research has connected a range of good behaviours in people’s life with being prone to guilt. How would you feel, for instance, if you unintentionally spilled wine on a friend’s brand-new, cream-coloured carpet and then moved a chair to hide the stain? More people would feel guilty if they thought they had behaved pitifully. Cohen claims that this shame is merely a sense of deep responsibility for others, acting as a moral compass to help us make the right decisions.
Take comfort in the knowledge that our personalities are more malleable than you might imagine if you are worried that you wouldn’t perform well on the light triad.
Research by psychologist William Fleeson and his associates has shown that people tend to be morally consistent over the short term, there may be potential for manoeuvring over a longer time frame. Day, who is close to being declared a saint, thought that by forcing oneself to improve gradually but persistently through time, anyone might choose to become a better person.
While there’s not yet research to show her idea works for everyone, there is evidence that personality is somewhat malleable over our lifetimes. According to Kaufman, “I do believe that personality is merely a mixture of habits, of states of thinking, acting, and feeling in the environment and that we can change these habits.”
Kaufman’s work on the light triad carries a positive message for all people.
The likelihood that we will end up getting more saintly as we age, whether we want it or not, is increased guilt-proneness, which tends to increase from age 20 to about 60 in adults.
The light triangle project by Kaufman conveys a positive message about society as a whole. The average person slanted significantly toward the light side of the personality, according to the results of the two tests that over a thousand participants took. Despite the tragedies in the world, he claims, “humans truly are oriented towards the bright side by default.”
If additional research on the light triad reveals the same thing, it will support the notion that individuals are inherently good despite all of our shortcomings. Maybe that will be enough to restore anyone’s trust in mankind who is torn between their darker and lighter sides, tipping the scales in favour of common sainthood.