It seems to me that the single most important characteristic to have nowadays is the will to improve. It seems to be the one good thing which virtually guarantees all others. This drive may manifest as the will to improve facets of oneself, a relationship or any other conceivable thing that may be effected. Good things in all dimensions of human life simply atrophy away if they are not invested in; whether it be the spiritual, the horticultural or the social. Please note that qualities such as humility are important in good measure (don’t imagine I mean that improvement means constant expansion).
This characteristic is the difference between one who seeks and one who doesn’t. One who seeks continually is almost certain to find “good”, “value” or “quality”. They’re more likely to look at two or more situations and make a value judgement about which they’d prefer.
One who has the will to improve can find certain useful truths along their journey. They pick up little nuggets of advice such as “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” or “dress for the job you want”. Granted that epigrammatic advice like this is often limited in its usefulness. I would argue however that simply having the will to use it to improve directly leads to a mind which has learned the distinction between following that advice and not following it. Wisdom is gained.
Sometimes I think cultures have their own built-in ways of discouraging growth. In Australia, where I’m from, there’s a cultural phenomenon called tall poppy syndrome. This is basically society collectively saying “don’t get too big or you’ll get chopped down”. I know some people who positively cringe at the thought of being seen to invest in themselves because it seems to invite the judgemental attention of others.
Yet at the same time any good social system must have an element of advancement and opportunity in its DNA. This gives us both hope and dreams which are so vital to have, regardless of whether we would ever actually “go for it”.
There is in fact an moral obligation on people to have the will to improve, since everyone directly effects those who they spend their time with. Society is made of individuals, each of which contributes to the spirit of the times and the collective state of consciousness (not to mention the vibe in the immediate environment).
If you agree with the basic premise that some lives are better than others, then it’s not much of a stretch to say that the will to improve is a most basic virtue of our time. It’s not only valuable in our time though. In other times it would lead to “the good” as well. Such as successfully reproducing or apparently being in God’s good graces.
To end on a rather bitter note I’ll examine the opposite of this quality. What is its opposite (if anything)? It might be the lack of will to improve, the will to keep ones head down and fit in with the herd or simply apathy about potentialities. There is a time and place for these also. At some times in history (most times actually), investing in oneself may anger the powers that be and lead to death. In fact Socrates was killed for this reason, so was Jesus to some extent. Aristotle (perhaps noting Socrates’ death) thought that virtue was finding moderation, the sweet spot between two extremes.
True wisdom would be to understand the social climate one is in, and what exactly the best course of action is for your time and place, given your values. In our time both the fear of standing out and the apathy towards advancement appear to be mostly misplaced and hence the better way forward is to strengthen our will to improve rather than stifle it.