Recommitting to Caution with Character Strengths

By Ruth Pearce

All through 2020, I was relentless. No going out without a mask, washing hands MANY times a day, cleaning surfaces, keeping my distance. My husband too. For a year that is what we did, and it worked. No illness. We did not visit with family, hang out with friends, or go to restaurants. We started ordering our groceries to be delivered and quarantining them after they had arrived.

We used our strengths of self-regulation to manage the urges to throw caution to the wind. We used prudence to plan every expedition by car or foot. We stopped flying, staying in hotels, eating out and going to stores. There was a big supply of masks in our car along with sanitizer spray and wipes and some gloves just in case. There were masks and sanitizer at every entrance to the house.

When the time came, we used judgment to weigh evidence for and against the vaccine and for going out more or not. The character strengths of kindness helped motivate me to mask for others even as mask mandates went away. A friend with allergies cannot get the vaccine; I wore a mask for her. My friend’s mother is immune compromised- I wore a mask for her. But we did go out for dinner a few times, and we visited the hardware store – with masks on of course!

When strengths take a break

Although we did not throw caution to the wind, self-regulation and prudence and judgment did sit in the back seat of the car for a couple of days during our house move – navigating from the back in the annoying way that only back seat drivers can. Kindness kept me cautious, but not AS cautious.

And here I am. Covid positive, fully vaccinated, careful but not obsessional and sick.

As frustrating as it is, the pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot.

A strengths review

  1. Self-regulation – not my highest strength and I am in good company. Less than 5% of people rank Self-regulation in the top 5! Self-Regulation is a complex character strength. It has to do with controlling your appetites and emotions and regulating what you do. (VIA Institute on Character)
  2. Prudence – we define this strength as Prudence means being careful about your choices, stopping and thinking before acting. It is a strength of restraint.
  3. Judgment – this is the strength of critical thinking. With this strength we weigh options, consider evidence, and take in information to make informed decisions. Judgment involves making rational and logical choices, and analytically evaluating ideas, opinions, and facts.
  4. Kindness – Kindness is being compassionate… Such compassion involves a deep concern for the welfare of others. Kindness is also being nurturing and caring to others. When we mask up, keep our distance, and monitor our own health we are protecting and caring for others

Where did I get it?

We don’t know. It could be the woman in the restaurant who was coughing repeatedly to clear her throat without covering her face. Maybe it was one of the people who came to take care of our post-lightning strike home damage, Maybe it was a delivery person or the people who passed us unmasked on the communal stairs. Who knows? The point is that by re-engaging my own strengths I can do better – whatever others do.

A new sense of commitment – with Character Strengths

So here are four ways I am re-engaging and re-energizing my character strengths…

  1. Self-regulation – What might be the long-term consequences of my short-term choice?
  2. Prudence – what can I put in place to make it easier to be cautious and safe?
  3. Judgment – I will pay more attention to the latest data on Covid spread and research beyond the headlines. I will accept that nothing is certain!
  4. Kindness – and most of all I will focus on kindness, I can take risks for myself, but not for others. Any time I lose energy about self-regulating urges and planning my activities carefully, I will remind myself that it is not just about me, it is about ALL of us.
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