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The Good Personality

February 4, 2010

Having a “Good personality” is an admired quality that is associated with success in many areas of life such as career, relationships and societal acceptance.  A lot of people describe their ideal partner as having a “good personality” and a lot of recruiters hire job applicants based on their “Good personality”. But, What does it mean to have a “Good Personality”? This post is not aimed at outlining the traits that make up a “good” personality as an inspiration for self-development but rather, exploring how a diverse variety of traits are considered by different societies and different individuals as “good” traits, and attempting to speculate means for judging a personality objectively.

Society prizes a certain set of personality traits that are associated with commendable values such as compassion, loyalty, Independence…etc. However, each society has its unique culture with its own set of values. In his framework that asses culture, Geert Hofstede outlined Five different dimensions by which national cultures differ.The dimensions are (1) Power distance, (2) Individualism Vs. Collectivism, (3) Masculinity Vs. Femininity, (4) Uncertainty avoidance, (5) Long-term Vs. short-term orientation. (For more details read this page).

How a society scores on each dimension is an indication of its most respected values. Those values can determine what personality traits are respected by this particular community. For example, a country that scores high on Individualism would prize personal achievement and individual rights . Such cultures are more accepting of diversity and are therefore, likely to reward traits such as independence, self-reliance and open-mindedness.. The majority of individuals in such a society would consider those traits attractive as opposed to individuals in a society that scores high on collectivism who are more likely to admire traits such as Loyalty to family and community and observance of societal traditions.

Societies that score high on Masculinity value high-achievement and material gains. Males and Females are socialized differently in such a culture. The Men are usually expected to be goal-oriented, ambitious and are raised with a “boys don’t cry” attitude. It is acceptable and even required for men in such societies to be more aggressive. The family roles are traditional, therefore the men are expected to be competent financial-providers and the women are appreciated for having traits such as obedience and dutifulness.

On the other hand, Feminine societies focus more on the quality of life and have a flexible family structure. Males and Females are socialized in a similar manner. Men are not appreciated for being aggressive and women are more encouraged to pursue high-profile careers. Traits such as
environmental awareness and compassion are valued and less emphasis is placed on goals and material gains.

To conclude, the variations among the cultures of different societies affect what are considered to be good personality traits, by the community and ultimately the individuals. Those broad values shape the perception of the individuals and inspires them to a develop in accordance to these set Ideals. An individual Failing to match the ideals put forth by society would be considered to possess “bad traits” and would be encouraged to change or develop themselves in order to better meet the expectations of society.
Just as there are variations among the cultures of different societies, there are also variations among the personalities of different Individuals. Each Personality type embodies a unique set of character traits and behavioral tendencies

The variations among individuals in personality account for a large portion of the difference in behavior and character traits. The MBTI offers insight into the cognitive processes of different personality types. (for more details about MBTI read this page) It shows how each personality type has a dominant cognitive function, this function is the core strength and is the most developed. For example, someone who has Thinking (Te) as their dominant function is likely to have traits such as being efficient, organized and productive. The same person, however would have difficulty with inferior functions such as introverted Feeling (Fi) making them less sensitive to others’ feelings and struggling with their own emotions. Each Personality type posses strengths and weakness and requires maturity and development in order to be more balanced.

The Enneagram which is a trait theory that is less scientific and has more of a spiritual interpretation circulates around describing 9 different behavioral types based on 9 vices which are Anger , Pride, Deceit, Envy, Avarice, Fear, Gluttony, Lust, Indifference (for more details refer to The Enneagram Institute website). This framework used for self-development and is a good representation of the virtues and vices different of types.

What is defined as strength or weakness is determined largely by society and culture. As presented before, each culture values different traits, and so unfortunately personality types are judged as “good” or “bad” based on whether its traits match the ideal of society. For example in a society that scores high on masculinity a typical ESTJ male is likely to exhibit traits that are considered favorable and is therefore more likely to be successful without having to dramatically change or grow while an ISFP male would struggle to thrive in the same society.

The same could apply to Enneagram types, depending on the prevalent culture some virtues are more appreciated than others, and some vices are more frowned upon. A lot of times, a culture is so set in its beliefs about what makes a good personality that it fails to reward individuals based on their level of development and personal growth, but rather for being lucky enough to naturally posses valued traits.

In addition, some types are less common than others and are therefore considered strange and are usually misunderstood by the more prevalent types. Those types may poses a lot of strength that are not valued by the community and may not be given an opportunity to use those strengths.

On a more personal level, individuals usually consider people they have a good encounter with as having a “good personality”. “good chemistry” is what  makes a person admire another and conclude that they have a “good personality”. There is no absolute “good” or “bad” personality. It is important to note that how different types interact and perceive each other, is a determining factor in how individuals judge others’ personality. For example, the interactions between a typical ESFJ and a typical INTP might lead to great misunderstanding and each person might even walk away thinking the other has a bad personality but, it’s only the huge difference in perception and behavior that makes it hard for that pair to get along.

Morality and Ethics are also a key determinant of what is considered to be good or bad personality traits but much like culture, each society has its own code of ethics and morality and within each culture each individual has their own sense of morality. It is only possible to agree vaguely in broad terms on what can be considered as important virtues or unforgivable vices. Different societies and different individual place variable level of emphasis on the importance of morality and ethics.

To sum up, societies differ in their values. Those values shape the individuals perception of different personality traits, skewing judgment in favor of certain traits which become highly admired qualities that most people aspire to posses and marginalizing other traits. On a more personal level, different personality types perceive other types as favorable or unfavorable depending on the nature of their encounter and how much they understand or appreciated the qualities of the other type.  Moreover, the higher prevalence of some personality types leads to the exaggeration of the importance of the strengths exhibited by those types at the expense of overlooking the strengths of less common types.

The result is a one-dimensional Ideal personality that shows all of the prevalent virtues and values of its society. A “good personality” is in some way or another matching this ideal. Such an Ideal is for the most part subjective and is not concerned with maturity level but rather a fixation on a laundry-list of “good” traits.  A more objective assessment would be more based on a impartial judgment of the strengths and weakness of an individual taking into account level of development. Society as a whole could benefit from being more open-minded and providing opportunities for people of all types to thrive and be appreciated and for their strengths to be acknowledged.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2010 7:28 pm

    I think the assumption is that all individuals in a society have the same goals. If society decides the desirable values and traits then it also decides the desirable goals. Individuals with those desirable traits have an easier time reaching the desirable goal. But what about the goals outside the traditional bell-curve? Wouldn’t those goals be easier for individuals with traits outside the bell-curve?

    I don’t like seeing things in terms of “good” or “bad”, especially in comparison to what’s considered societal norms. I prefer looking at them in terms of whether they are “moving you forward” or “moving you backward” in relation to individual goals. Everyone has goals and certain behaviors move them forward or backwards. Certain traits make certain goals easier to attain because of the natural behaviors associated with that trait.

    For example, Js tend to be better in business because everyone likes purchased goods (things) and services (employment) on time and people will pay for that behavior. This presupposes your goal is to be paid a lot of money. If that’s not important, than having J traits might not be as important.

    Then the question becomes, what if you want what society says you should want, but don’t have the traits that make it easier to that desired result? Bummer. So you don’t get to have want you want the easy way. The elevator to individual success (whatever you determine that to be) is broken, but the stairs are always open.

    • February 7, 2010 12:14 pm

      Hi Corin, welcome to my blog :)

      You raise an interesting point. Society dictates what is considered “good” traits and also what is considered “desirable goals”. As you mentioned, The goals outside the traditional bell-curve are probably pursued by the individuals with traits outside the bell-curve. It is the road less traveled. It’s a treacherous journey, like your analogy of the staircase. For that reason, most people that choose that pathway are labeled by society as “MAD” or any other word with a negative connotation, and it’s only the very few madmen which are successful that actually get recognition and approval from society. So there is a trade-off, between pursuing the “desirable” goals and possessing “good” traits, or pursuing personally appealing but, risky and possibly non-rewarding goals and further developing, what is considered by society to be, “useless” strengths.

      I agree with you, there is a fallacy in seeing things in terms of “good” or “bad”. The point of the post was to illustrate how society and individuals tend to make that mistake, often describing individuals as having a “good” or “bad” personality and vewing certain goals as worthwhile and others as a complete waste. My point is, the idea of a “good personality” is a myth and that all personality types have their strengths or weaknesses, however certain types are falsely judged as more favorable than others. Also society could benifit from the efforts of individuals who aspire to accomplish goals that are often falsely veiwed as “futile” goals.

      Also the idea was to show how being born in a culture which is congruent to one’s own values and goals that rewards one’s core strengths can be a determining factor in success and inner-peace. The underlying idealistic notion is that of a society where all different people can easily find a rewarding pathway and are appreciated for being themselves in its most developed and balanced state without having to dramatically change who they are or what they aspire to achieve.

  2. Marjo Liza Retiro permalink
    January 8, 2013 5:33 am

    Awesome!:)

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