The Fine Line Between Beneficial and Detrimental


An article published in Psychology Today (When Virtue Becomes Vice, October 2013) took an interesting look at some of the traits that are often revered – virtues, if you will – and made a claim that any virtue, when taken too far, can be very unhealthy. It states that “some virtues are just a few degrees away from antisocial behaviours with negative consequences”. In order to understand this, one must recognize that traits are usually found on a continuum – rather than being “outgoing” or “introverted”, people will fall somewhere along the continuum, being outgoing to a certain degree or introverted to a certain degree. Consider the following “good” traits, listed on the left, with the negative interpretations of the same trait taken too far on the right:mower & grass

Organized ⇔ Obsessive
Daring ⇔ Risky
Modest ⇔ Insecure
Confident ⇔ Arrogant
Cautious ⇔ Anxious
Persuasive ⇔ Domineering
Friendly ⇔  Ingratiating
(As a boss or leader) Being involved ⇔ Micromanaging
Wanting fairness for everyone ⇔  Obsessive score keeping
Being passionate about something ⇔  Being obsessive about something
Agreeability ⇔  Inability to be assertive
Collaboration ⇔ Diffused accountability
Work-life balance ⇔ Cloistered, overly controlled life.

The author also takes a long look at perfectionism. People who observe perfectionists will often do so with a sense of awe or even jealously at how meticulous and prepared the person might seem to be. Anyone who would identify as being a perfectionist would likely not be so quick to elevate the quality. Perfectionism can “shut down creativity and risk-taking and indicate a lack of priorities – everything doesn’t have to be done perfectly; some things just need to get done.” In one study of academic productivity among psychology professors, those with a higher rating of “perfectionism” tended to have fewer publications, suggesting that perfectionism can restrict productivity.

The article suggests that it is too easy to simply consider some traits beneficial – our assumptions about what is or isn’t beneficial consistently need to be re-examined in our ever-changing world. Perhaps then, the most important trait is adaptability. A sense of self-awareness of when a particular trait is contributing in a positive way or when a trait is holding you back is crucial. Just because a trait served you well in the past, does not mean it still does or will continue to do so.


About Elim

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