In our western world, there is only one set of personality characteristics we truly appreciate. All the others are to be dispensed with. Or in any case, that is how we act.
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Big Five of Personality
In scientific literature there is one personality construct that rules all others and which could help us define the ultimate personality.
The Big Five of Personality is made up of five (whaddayaknow) dimensions of personality. Often encompassed in the acronym OCEAN.
The O stands for Openness to experience. With it’s counterpart Closedness it defines people who are more creative, curious, in for a new adventure, novelty seeking, are more intelligible, think more abstractly and are keen to talk about more abstract concepts and ideas.
C is Conscientiousness. People who are more conscientious than not, are more orderly, are able to plan better, like to work hard and more accurately, and have a sense of duty.
E stands for the trait we all know: Extraversion. With of course on the other end of the spectrum Introversion. People who are more extraverted tend to like larger social encounters, are more outgoing, like to be in the center of attention, crave more stimuli, and feel more positive emotions generally.
Agreeableness is the next one. People who are more agreeable, in contrast to disagreeable, feel more empathy towards other people. They often like to please more, focus more on cooperation than competition and are generally more kind and accepting towards others.
The last one, the N, stands for Neuroticism. The other end is Emotional Stability. People who are more neurotic tend to feel more negative emotions and experience them faster, more intensely and for a longer period of time. These people are more sensitive, somewhat avoidant of things because they are more easily frustrated, angry, sad or scared. They are also more prone to stress and therefore depression and burnout.
Another thing you need to know about the Big Five is that these are as said a spectrum and these dimensions are normally distributed. Which means that most people score in the middle of each spectrum. And only few hold extreme positions. So a pure extravert is very rare, if not non-existent. Most people are actually ambiverts.
The ultimate personality
There is one score that in the western world trumps all others. Which is the following:
We want Open people, because they are often more smart. They tend to like new stuff and engage in them. We like them, because they are often the pioneers and inspirators.
Conscientiousness is very important to us. We like the hard working person who achieved a lot because of his or her dedication and perseverance. The non-conscientious person is often lazy, sloppy and we like to pull our noses up in contempt for them (the only ones we like in this category are the cool surfer and skater dudes).
Then the Extravert is part of the ideal picture. The charismatic, social and ever positive and laughing side of the personality scale is the one we love the most.
The Agreeable one is maybe the most difficult dimension to really put forward as the ultimate person. Because many of the highest executives and people who’ve climbed the corporate ladder are actually quite disagreeable. But otherwise we like the person who is nice to others, who listens well, cooperates great and makes sure everyone is feeling alright.
Lastly the Emotionally Stable person. The only dimension in the OCEAN acronym where the opposite direction is preferable. We like the people more who seem to be in control. Who don’t get spooked by anything and are steady as they go. We can rely on them and they feel strong to us.
The person who is open, conscientious, extraverted, agreeable and emotionally stable has it all. It’s the perfect human being in our sense. And we all want to be like him or her. They are most valued, most sought after (in terms of hiring for a job) and respected. They are witted, smart, adventurous, kind, steady, they don’t whine, don’t shun away from a conversation, they have discipline, they are trustworthy and not small minded. What more do you want?
But there’s a problem
A lot of people aren’t like that. In fact, most people aren’t like that. Of course only one can be the ultimate one. But does that diminish the other qualities, characteristics and other personalities people have?
No. And yes.
In real objective terms every point on the personality distribution is of use. Evolution has given us all this diversification to give the greatest chance of survival of our species.
We need the neurotic person to be the first to warn us of impending danger.
We need the introvert to actually contemplate things instead of just blurting things out. We need the closed person to not look under every rock or behind every bush and to be just fine with the cave we call home right now. We need the disagreeable person to stand up and fight if necessary. And we need all the people who have some score in the middle of these dimensions.
But we prefer certain people above others. We give less credit to the other dimensions. They are often seen as pesky, stubborn, petty, lazy, boring, whining, obnoxious, annoying, sad, even evil.
So what is right and what is wrong?
On the one hand we don’t want to discriminate. And we want to see the beauty in every individual.
But I think we also like pursuing certain virtues. Things like kindness, bravery, open-mindedness, being social, hard working. And those virtues come easier to some than others. Personality is playing a big role here.
And although I think we should appreciate everyone, I don’t think we should abandon these virtues.
People aren’t the same. In fact, people are quite different. And so there’s an extent to which you can favor certain people. Some are simply better than others. It has nothing to do with these old group differences like race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference. But only with personality and actual behavior.
Individual differences make sure some individuals are worth more to us than other individuals. And perhaps that’s actually a good thing.