Six Ways To Know Yourself and Others Better

“Know yourself.” – Ancient Greek aphorism

In my memorial post to an artist and former colleague, I introduced a personality typology based on the Platonic virtues of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. I’ve been thinking about these virtues as a way of understanding the people I meet for some time now. If you haven’t read it, go there first before reading this post.

Here are six more thoughts from my journal about what it means to be a Truth person, Goodness person, or Beauty person.


1. A person’s vocation doesn’t define his or her virtue.

A person can be a lawyer and a Beauty, or a musician and a Goodness, or a social worker and a Truth (I know people that fit these descriptions). The virtue type is that which defines a person’s deepest spiritual and emotional understanding of self, not a hint at what they do. In fact, sometimes a person’s vocation and primary virtue can be vastly different.


2. A person can live a life of complete congruity or total repression of their virtue.

Some people never experience, or only briefly experience, an honest connection with their primary virtue. A while back in Fast Company, I read the sad description of an executive’s father, who’d worked his whole life to raise a family, and whose only personal joy in life was his time on the golf course. Who knows the details of this sad depiction, but I’d venture that this poor father’s incongruity was in part based on a misalignment of his career and his primary virtue.

A person’s virtue is not defined by their personality type. To use Myers-Briggs, one of several good personality assessment tools, a person can be an INTJ (an introverted decision maker), or an ESPN (social and intuitive), and be goodness. A person can be strong willed and goodness – a justice minded warrior like U2’s Bono – or weak willed and Truth, or any other combination.

Some might also mistakenly identify someone’s primary virtue based on specific behaviors preferences. Someone might say that I am a truth person, because I like order and a clean desk. But Truth as a virtue is secondary for me. I don’t find myself moved by a clean desk. I am moved by a song or film or piece of writing embued with deep meaning. I’m merely satisfied by a clean desk.

The goal in any case is congruity, or an authentic life. A life of awareness, or to use a therapist’s term of “validation,” to their own deeply felt virtue.


3. Truth people find meaning in exactitude and precision.

I’ve worked closely with an artist who I’d venture to guess is beauty second, but truth first. He has a strong personal sense of right and wrong, and is quick to address any situation that violates this sense of correctness. Even in regular conversation he is very exact. A person might make a loose statement, exaggerated to make a point, and he is likely to respond with a correction, or at least a non-committal “maybe,” unable to acquiesce to something with which he does not agree. This highly structured sense of being correct is a sign of a Truth person.

In the previous post, I mentioned that my father is a Beauty, then a Truth. To contrast, my mother is a Truth person, then a Beauty. That doesn’t automatically qualify her as an academic or intellectual, though she is intelligent. Rather, it means she values what is correct. Though she is not confrontational, she is willing to risk conflict for the sake of naming what she believes to be incorrect, whether in a relationship or an issue.

Perhaps Truth people are good at drilling down and analyzing, though I am more inclined to say it’s not necessarily analysis that drives the Truth person, but correctness.

A Truth person leads with the mind and would do well to recognize the high need for correctness.


4. Beauty people find meaning in affect and experience.

Beauty people, on the other hand, need to create, to express and find value in expression. They need to not just know something to be true as a form of mental cognition, but to know it, as a form of soul alignment. I tend to think of the Hebrew’s understanding of knowledge, which was talked about as residing in the kidneys rather than the mind, as a more beauty based or at least holistic understanding of truth than what the Western world has offered.

A Beauty person leads with the soul and should understand that he or she finds meaning in expression, and look for healthy ways to live according to it.


5. Goodness people find meaning in causes and relationships.

They find meaning in a cause, in what is sometimes called the common good. My wife is a Goodness. She finds deep meaning in things such as participating in a Christmas drive to get toys to kids from under-advantaged families. I think this is a great idea, but she really gets into it.

Sometimes, particularly during the recent Supreme Court case on gay marriage, I’ll see some people post Facebook wall sayings that it’s more important to be loving than to be right. I see these and think, that’s a Goodness person talking.

A Goodness person leads with the heart and should be aware of the validation he or she finds in caring for others.


6. It’s good to mature into all three virtues.

Communities have problems when they’re built around a single virtue. We’re currently going through a revival of cultural, cause-based movements. Without connection to truth and beauty, this will most certainly fade, as others have done. And other virtues have had their cultural heyday, and will again.

It is the combination of all three, in individuals, organizations and congregations, that promotes health.

In reflecting more on my artist friend, and any artist who struggles with validation, perhaps a fully authentic and full life:

  • recognizes the primary virtue
  • lives as closely as possible to the congruent expression of this virtue
  • accepts different virtues in others

FInally, these ideas aren’t meant to encourage people to dismiss other virtues. Jesus said we should worship God with heart, mind and soul – all three. A disciple of Jesus works to build a more holistic expression of all three virtues.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).