How Our Greatest Strengths Become Weaknesses

Vice and virtue

Virtue and vice. The two concepts present a complex dynamic. They're distinct from each other, yet oddly intertwined. Within every virtue, the possibility of vice exists. And within every vice, the promise of virtue is just beyond the horizon.

Here's our inventory of the best good-and-evil duos that we all struggle to keep balanced.

Moderation and excess

Moderation is a virtue many people love to love, and it's easy to understand why. It's measured. It's the center lane. Eat in moderation, drink in moderation, update your social media in moderation, and you have the cornerstone to a healthy and productive lifestyle.

However, when moderation slips, things can spin out of control quickly, and before you know it you've lapsed into excess. If you've ever woken up after a night of binging your favorite Netflix series and your brain feels like a pile of mush, then you know what we're talking about.

Excellence and indecision

Say you want to rent an apartment . . . it's in a good neighborhood, and it's within your price range. However, you find the bedroom closet to be too small. You hesitate, and the apartment is rented to somebody else. Now, you're left with nothing but regret and nowhere to live.

It's not all bad though. Missing out on the apartment has taught you the link between the virtue of excellence and the vice of indecisionExcellence should be strived for, but one must be careful not to let the need for perfection regress into indecision. 

Honesty and insensitivity

You tell it like it is, and you never pull a punch. You think your grandpa's Thanksgiving-table story about walking to school up hill both ways in the rain with cinderblocks tied to his ankles is nonsense, and you tell him so. Well done, you're an exemplar of the virtue of honesty.

But, now your partner is asking if an outfit looks good, and you say it makes him or her look frumpy. Well, your honesty has just bled into the vice of insensitivity, and maybe you should pump the brakes. Sometimes, saying nothing is the best balance of all.

Tolerance and denial

Let's say you've finally met the guy or girl of your dreams. Sometimes, you have routine disagreements. You want to watch that new PBS documentary, and they want to watch reality TV. Of course, you don't outwardly say that reality TV causes brain-rot . . . and that's the virtue of tolerance in action.

However, if those small disagreements turn into larger, nasty ones because you just can't understand how somebody could like that smut, you might be guilty of vice, specifically denial. Remember, to each their own.

Courage and arrogance

The virtue of courage can take many forms. It might be principled. One might be standing against unjust oppression or fighting for an unpopular cause, for instance. Courage might also take the form of acting against fear, leaping from the high-dive platform despite being afraid of heights.

In the latter example, however, if you don't know how to swim, upon hitting the water you'll be reminded that courage gone too far becomes the vice of arrogance. Better hope there's a lifeguard.

Obedience and conformity

Obedience as a virtue has its roots in the Christian tradition. For Christians, to be obedient to the will of the Lord is the highest calling, serving Him before all others. That's swell if you're into it. For the more secular, though, obedience as a virtue is a handy tool when your mom tells you to take care of the chores.

At its worst, obedience can slip into the vice of conformity when one blindly adheres to authority. Sometimes, those in charge need to be challenged. Just not your mom . . . definitely not your mom.

Idealism and dogmatism

So, you have high standards, and you're ambitious to a fault. You think all of society's problems can be solved with hard work and collective action. Are you nuts? No, you're just a practitioner of the virtue of idealism, and no matter how crazy your cynical uncle says you are, your enthusiasm matters.

If you're going to be an idealist, however, beware. The pursuit carries with it an implicit stubbornness to fight for your idealistic beliefs above all others, and that can easily slip into the vice of dogmatism. Dogmatists believe only a single set of principles to be true, largely without considering the opinions of others. Now, you're just as bad as your uncle . . . .

Confidence and narcissism

You feel as crisp as a hundred-dollar bill—and frankly, you exude the virtue of confidence. Confidence fills us with a belief in ourselves that we can rise to any occasion, and that's an all-too-important aspect of success.

Think too much of yourself though, and you risk alienating others. If that occurs, you're now vice-ing it up with narcissismNarcissism comes to us from the Greek mythological character Narcissus, and he thought he was pretty hot stuff. In fact, he liked his own reflection so much he fell in love with it at the expense of others.

Wisdom and contempt

The owl sits on a branch. He sees all and knows all. He is the embodiment of sapience. Or, in other words, the owl represents the virtue of wisdom. If you're like the owl, you too possess great knowledge, and you're able to harness experiences, learn from them, and make sound decisions moving forward. As always though, theres a catch. You'll notice that the owl is alone on the branch.

Leaving aside the fact he's a predator, the owl's predicament is most likely the result of the vice of contempt. Contempt is an unenviable trait causing those with wisdom to look down upon those lacking intelligence. And, like the owl, they might be left to sit on a branch, or a park bench, by themselves. So, heed the words of Socrates: "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

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