Monday, August 22, 2005

Most overrated virtue

I watched a celebrity interview the other day, and one of the questions struck me as interesting. The question was, "What is the most overrated virtue?"

My answer is, extroversion. I realize that extroversion is not usually thought of as a virtue, but Western society rewards extroverts over introverts virtually every time. People respond to it as a great virtue even if they haven't explicitly thought of it in those terms.

I think introverts have a great deal to contribute to society, though I am not saying that introverts are better than extroverts. As in most areas, I think balance is a healthy ideal … and I think our society is unbalanced in favour of extroverts.

What's your answer to the question? Which virtue would you say is the most overrated?

Or, if you prefer to tackle the question the other way around, feel free to tell me which is the most underappreciated virtue, instead.

If you need a list of virtues to get you started, here is a classical list (with their opposites, to clarify the definitions):

Capital VirtuesCapital Sins
brotherly loveenvy

And here's a site, the Virtues Project, where dozens of others are listed.


At 6:15 AM, August 24, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

The most over-rated virtue? Though I agree with you on your observations about extroversion, I chose mine from the more classical list. In my books, it's honesty.

I am not hereby making deceit a virtue. The honesty I'm talking about goes far beyond the recital of facts. In fact, one of the most personally dishonest people I've ever known tended to stick strictly to facts when asked direct questions - and prided himself on his honesty. But so much was left unsaid between the factual answers. Now that, to me, is tremendously dishonest! Truth, honesty, and facts overlap, but are not synonymous.

In any list of virtues, there will be times when they come in conflict with one another. When forced to choose between honesty and kindness, I generally opt for kindness. I am quite aware that there are times when to choose kindness over honesty is merely a wishy-washy cop-out, but I believe there are more times that to choose honesty over kindness is self-indulgent and cruel.

I am weary of people who claim that they're "just being honest" when they say indiscreet or unkind things. Honesty is too often used as a weapon.

But perhaps what I'm describing here is merely a convenient approximation of honesty taken on by the shallow or manipulative; an easy outward form, rather than the much more challenging depth of emotional, personal, character honesty. Internal honesty, I realize, I hold in very high esteem. I don't pull punches with myself about my motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. This is what the truest form of honesty is, for me.

I hold the verbal expression of honesty in some suspicion, and see it as a virtue that must be carefully weighed before it's expressed. And possibly kept to oneself most of the time.

At 2:29 PM, August 24, 2005, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I think that modern western society sees vitues as pretty much the exact opposite of the classical virtues.

We (as a society) value pride (in our achievements, our children, our possesions, etc), avarice (isn't that what fuels our capatalist societies), envy (what is advertising if not a celebration of envy), wrath, well we certainly don't value meekness - we congratualte entrprenuers for walking over the little guys (you can't truely be successful in business unless willing to do this), lust (lets not go there, but I think ther's little doubt that as a society we approve of lust), Gluttony (the rise in obesity is the result of our love affair with food for more than nourishment), and sloth (we all want to do as little as possible for the greatest reward, and boast when this is accomplished).

I wonder what that says about the eveolution of human society?

At 2:04 PM, August 25, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Mrs. Aginoth:

You make a compelling case! I've had some of those thoughts before, but individually. Avarice, for example, as the engine of our economy. But I hadn't analyzed the whole list at one sitting like that!

I think our society has developed some marvelous virtues that didn't make the original Roman Catholic list, like equality between the sexes. But I also think capitalism is a mixed blessing. It works well in the real world precisely because it panders to the worst aspects of human nature (selfishness, acquisitiveness, competitiveness, even ruthlessness).

Most of us benefit from the wealth the capitalist system generates. But it is hard to reconcile with the Christian virtues: other-centeredness, equitable distribution of wealth, valuing the spiritual and eternal above the material and temporal.

Our society is poorer spiritually, if wealthier materially.

Thanks for initiating an interesting line of thought.

At 11:49 AM, August 29, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:12 PM, August 29, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Welcome back, Bill. I missed your input while you were away.

I'm not sure whether you quite understood my point about extroverts. I wasn't finding fault with them. I'm just pointing out that, in our society, extroverts tend to get ahead. (Unlike, for example, Japan, which is often seen as a nation of introverts.) And I think it's unhealthy for society when either group is privileged over the other, because they contribute different sorts of things, and both kinds of contribution are necessary.

On your other point, it may be possible to get ahead in business without trampling others in the process. But from the standpoint of capitalism, it isn't a relevant consideration one way or the other. Capitalism is amoral that way; unlike Santa Claus, capitalism doesn't care whether you're naughty or nice.

All that counts is the bottom line. Any other consideration is liable to divert your energy in an unprofitable direction and hold you back. From that perspective, it might be better to be ruthless.

At 4:46 PM, August 29, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

Bill, you have to start realizing that when you speak out like this, you are almost certain to be including in your audience some of the group you're speaking about. Q and I are both introverts. Hadn't you noticed that? And speaking as an introvert, Bill, I find your typification of us highly insulting. Outrageously insulting.

You say: "an introvert thinks he has made 'quality connections'." Why the quotation marks? And why do we only THINK we've made them?

"The extrovert however might have 100 personal interactions a day and if only 10 percent are quality connections..."

What seems to have completely escaped your extroverted mind is that introverts and extroverts define "quality" quite differently.
Something you, as an extrovert would define as a quality interaction, I would see as just beginning to show the potential for quality.

As an introvert, I'd say that if you were having as many as 100 interactions in a day, there would simply not be the time for any of them to be "quality". You would see it otherwise, because your definition of the word differs from mine.

"The introvert is lucky if he/she makes 5 special friends in a life time."

I would counter this by saying that, as an introvert would define it, extroverts generally don't make ANY "special friends" in their lives. You, obviously don't see it like that, because it's a question of definition. We define this differently because of our different perspective and differing needs.

"The sad thing is he/she thinks that this is normal".

This is the most outrageously insulting part of all. I've got a flash for you, Bill: to an introvert, this IS normal. It IS normal, Bill, it's just different. Different from you, anyway, because it's not the extrovert's viewpoint. If I were to take your point of view, I'd be calling you the abnormal one.

"anyone that thinks he/she has more than this to him/her is delusional"

So we introverts are delusional, now, are we?

What it comes down to is perspective and the way each group defines something. By refusing the acknowledge that the differing perspective has any value at all, you have completely proven Q's point, that this society values extroversion and denigrates introversion.

The only way of value to be is extroverted. Thanks a lot.

At 4:58 PM, August 29, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...


Perhaps I'll just recall your attention to the earlier part of Mary P.'s comment.

I think she's right, that you forgot there were introverts among the contributors to this blog. You expressed yourself infelicitously … because I'm sure you didn't mean to put us down.

At 7:19 PM, August 29, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:26 AM, August 30, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...


You're right, Mary P. and I don't fit your defintion of introvert. I think you define introvert as someone who lacks social skills. But I am quite competent socially, and Mary P. is more skilled than I am.

But that's not what introvert means. An introvert is someone who has a psychological need to be alone in his or her own thoughts much of the time. If you surveyed my neighbours, they would tell you that I fit my definition, though not yours. A lot of socializing goes on on our street. I am friendly and on good terms with everyone, and I socialize in short bursts, but then I retreat.

Myers-Briggs defines an introvert as someone who needs to go away and be alone in order to reenergize; whereas an extrovert gets energy from social engagements. This was one of the many areas where I was hopelessly mismatched with my first wife. She was a raging extrovert who gained energy in proportion to the social demands she was facing, whereas I was worn down by them. At Christmas time, when we faced multiple demands from church, family, and friends, she was in her glory. I just wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere.

I think I will revisit this subject in another post, because there's a lot of misunderstanding out there. It would be good for extroverts and introverts to grow in understanding for one another.

At 2:32 PM, October 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the most underrated virtue? thats easy, silence. everyone has something to say. whatever happened to just shutting up and listening for a change?

At 4:10 PM, October 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think the most overrated virtue is patriotism. (at the moment anyway)

At 10:58 PM, October 09, 2010, Anonymous meus intuitus said...

Extroversion is highly overrated. You state that "balance" is always best, but perhaps that statement is only a reluctant concession you feel you have to make (due to our living in so extroverted a world).

For many many people, it's not even about balance. It's about something more profound. It's about the kind of interaction one appreciates. Some prefer to talk much and about anything and nothing--and they are energized by such a manner of living. Others prefer to talk little and mostly about things of moderate to great significance--and to take plenty of alone time to mull over the interactions and conversations they do have.


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