Yazd (Irn), 1971. Doctor in Social Psychology and specialist in family therapy. in his new book the good character (Editorial Platform) offers the keys to bring to light the qualities that we all carry inside.
- His book is titled the good character. Is there a good character and a bad character?
- Yes, yes there is, I think so. In general, when a person is very temperamental we say that he has a lot of character. But in the last 20 years, a whole string of very interesting studies and research has emerged that suggests that there is a whole series of traits that everyone potentially possesses. Traits such as kindness, creativity, optimism, sense of humor, perseverance, determination, generosity, altruism, empathy…
- Are we all really born with these virtues in a latent state?
- That is the question. What has been discovered is that potentially everyone has them. Our cerebral gear is prepared to be able to develop all these virtues. What happens is that then life itself is a path of development of each of these virtues. Depending on the experiences we are living, the education we receive and the experiences we go through, we are developing some of these virtues more than others. In the end, everyone has a few character strengths, some virtues that they have worked very hard on, very developed. They are those virtues with which anyone who knows us could describe us, and that probably have a lot to do with their character strengths. And when a person has many strengths of character, we say that he is of good character.
- And what happens with those virtues that we have not worked so hard on?
- Many times, those virtues that we do not have as developed are the ones that get us into trouble, the ones that generate the conflicts of daily life. They may be our defects, but in reality they are potential traits, traits that we have not yet focused on in order to develop them.
- We know that in children it is easy to enhance certain virtues or traits. But what about adults?
- This is a very important question. Until just a few years ago, we knew that the first years of human life are extremely important for developing all these character traits. But we thought that after that age, those first years, that’s it: that what you have, what you’ve developed, is what you’re going to have left. And yet, science has realized that this idea has no support. There is nothing to support this thesis that after a certain age we no longer have the ability to develop our virtues. Quite the contrary.
- What has been discovered?
- What has been seen is that until our last day of life we can continue developing any of these virtues, which is a path that we start on when we are born and that lasts a lifetime. Although sometimes we have the feeling that such a virtue, such as optimism, was not even in so-and-so’s gear, it’s not like that. Science tells us that even so-and-so has optimism and all the other virtues as part of his mental machinery. What is pending is to focus efforts and energy there to be able to develop them.
- And how do you develop those good virtues, what do you have to do to have that good character?
- The first step, when we talk about adults, is to get to know each other through reflection, through introspection. It is about knowing which are the virtues that one has worked on the most, which are his character strengths and which are his defects. Because if you have identified your defects, you can focus on overcoming them, working on them. In my practice, I often ask people that question, and there are many people who are totally blocked, who cannot tell me a single characteristic, not a single quality that they believe is part of them. We lack reflection on ourselves, on who we are, on how we are, on what kind of person we want to become, what we want the flags of our character and our way of being to be. And to discover that, to identify it, reflection is very important. And then there is another way to be able to develop those traits…
- With the help of others. People, when we are born, do not have a developed identity, the image of ourselves we develop thanks to the help of the people around us. Through language, the words with which they address us, we begin to realize who we are, how we are. It is as if they put a mirror in front of you and you could see yourself.
- An example?
- Imagine that the words with which the people around us describe us are “Stubborn, you are a stubborn” or “You have to see what big hands you are” or “You never finish anything you start”. Those expressions are reflected in our mirror, in the mirror that has been placed in front of us that is what we see. Actually, with those words they are telling you that you are like that. What it is about using the language of virtues on a daily basis, a language that puts virtues at the center, whether we are talking about strengths or defects. If our communication had words like determination, responsibility, order or courage, in the end those ideas would be embedded in the identity of the people. It is thanks to these concepts that we develop the image we have of ourselves. And what a big difference there is between developing one type of identity or another based on the virtues of character.
- And all that was not already said by the Greek philosophers?
- The wheel is clear that we have not discovered it in recent years. Aristotle is considered the father of virtue ethics, but there were many other thinkers and philosophers who already intuited many things that science has now confirmed with objective data. There are many things regarding the virtues, character traits and way of being of people that we knew because they had been glimpsed by many thinkers. What is currently being contributed, and it is important, are scientific studies that come to reaffirm in some way some things that we already knew, but that we did not know for sure, and to refute others that we thought worked in a certain way and that turn out to work in a certain way. other.
- I was talking earlier about the importance of introspection, about the famous Greek aphorism “Conceive yourself.” In this world that goes a thousand miles an hour, do we have time to reflect on ourselves?
- We are so entertained and so busy with so many things that, in fact, we do not have many occasions in which to stop, think and reach important conclusions in life, which are what later condition our actions. We are busy with many other things, some are important but many others are pure entertainment. Many people find it very funny to take personality tests, because they take them as a game. But the really important thing is not what comes out of the test, but rather that one ended up reflecting and reaching some conclusions, because that is what will later condition their actions, their focus, where they put their energy, their efforts…
- But I understand that it is not about reflecting one day, but about making introspection a kind of habit, right?
- Yes, totally. Introspection has to be part of our life. But there also comes a time when we live immersed in a culture of virtues, in a culture in which virtues are present in our intentions, in our actions, in our decisions, in our day to day, and it is the virtues that that dictate, through our own reflection, the life that we are developing. And if we cannot keep the virtues in mind at all times of the day and in everything we do, because we have not yet trained for it, that at least from time to time we are able to find spaces in which we can reflect on it.
- If the virtues are embraced, in addition to the individual, does society improve?
- Of course. Society is not made of champions, but of people. And if people have a greater human quality because they have dedicated effort to working on their character, we would have another society different from the current one. Even so, I don’t want to revile the society in which we live, because there are many people with many developed virtues without perhaps having been fully aware of it. That is part of our gear, it is there. And if each person really focused more efforts on himself, it would be more possible to build a golden civilization, with more hard-working human beings, with better character.
- In this sense, is the example of people who hold relevant public positions important? If they are virtuous, does it help us to be virtuous too?
- Of course. Studies are being done on this, it is being investigated whether the development of virtues has some contagious component. When you are in an environment where there are very nice people, it may also make you a nicer person over time. If it is shown that this happens with our congeners, with the people of our family, with our friends, with the citizens that surround us, imagine with our rulers, who in theory are the most capable people that we have considered to leave everything in their hands. our important business. That is where the importance of having an exemplary character lies. I sometimes hear that a ruler in his personal life can do whatever he wants. Well no. It is very difficult to separate personal life from public life, they are public people who can serve to mold the character of many other people, to serve as examples.
- What should be the virtues of a good politician?
- Those people should be focused on developing traits like integrity, unity, empathy, a sense of justice, altruism, or compassion. A ruler who doesn’t have those traits as his strengths really has a hard time. It will also have flaws, but those traits should be highly developed in our rulers. But look at the world we have… Some rulers are still a long way off.
- You were born in Iran, although you came to Spain as a child, right?
- I came to Spain when I was nine years old on vacation with my parents. The Islamic revolution had started a couple of years ago. My mother was a civil servant, a teacher, and she had been expelled from her job. My father was an entrepreneur, he had his own business and they burned it down. They had to start from scratch and decided that we would go on vacation for a month to disconnect a bit and see where they started when they came back. And in that month they found out that if they came back, they would be stopped at the airport for being Baha. Here everyone can have their beliefs and their faith, but there is only one official religion and all the others are prohibited. The ‘bahai’ is the largest minority in Iran, and one of its most important principles is equal rights and opportunities for men and women. And, with a regime like the one that exists, that poses a threat to the survival of the regime itself.
- What do you think of the protests that are shaking Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini?
- What we are seeing day after day in all the media is that the general population and women in particular are saying enough is enough. When 42 years ago the previous generations made the Islamic revolution, they thought that it would serve to live better, but they were wrong. The only thing women in Iran ask for is freedom to be able to do very basic things that we take for granted here and that nobody questions, they lead very miserable lives because there are very basic things that they are not allowed to do.
- Can these protests lead to an opening of the regime?
- In the communities in exile and, obviously, for millions of people within the country, these protests are being lived with great hope, with great expectation, with great enthusiasm. But we do not know where all this movement will lead. But some issues are clear, and one is that this is no longer just a cry from the women of Iran. All over the world women are raising their voices. What is happening in Iran has already happened several times, but it hasn’t gotten anywhere because no one knew about it. And this time, the whole world watches.
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