Fascinating, recent research suggests that all of us have “light” and “dark” sides to our personalities that significantly and uniquely impact our well-being and relationships. In this article, we’ll explore the ways in which the integration of light and dark sides impacts our work and life performance.
The groundbreaking study from Scott Barry Kaufman, David Bryce Yaden, Elizabeth Hyde, and Eli Tsukayama summarizes the body of research identifying a negative personality triad and then introduces a separate, positive triad. The negative, or dark, triad consists of:
- Narcissism – a sense of entitled self-importance;
- Psychopathy – pervasive feelings of callousness and cynicism;
- Machiavellianism – deceit and the strategic exploitation of others.
The positive, or light, triad identified by the authors includes:
- Faith in Humanity – a belief in the fundamental goodness of others;
- Humanism – valuing the dignity and worth of each person;
- Kantianism – the treating of people as ends in themselves, not as means to one’s ends (per the moral dictum of philosopher Immanuel Kant).
The authors’ paper highlights a number of correlates of these two triads, finding that the Light Triad is associated with self-transcendence and personal growth. The Dark Triad, on the other hand, is significantly negatively correlated with life satisfaction, transcendent values, empathy, a quiet ego, and a belief in the goodness of both self and others.
It is interesting how this dark and light distinction mirrors teachings found in many spiritual traditions. For example, the Islamic concept of nafs found in the Sufi tradition, reflects an understanding that the self develops in stages, from the “inciting” and negative self of the ego, to the “self-accusing” self that seeks repentance, to the divine self-at-peace. Similarly, in the Jewish tradition, there is a distinction between the yetzer hara, the evil inclination grounded in the ego and our animal nature, and the yetzer ha-tov, the good inclination grounded in the divine soul. Christianity distinguishes between the fallen self that sins and the soul that finds grace, salvation, and redemption in Christ. Indeed, it is possible to view these spiritual traditions as frameworks by which people, for centuries, have navigated the tension between their dark and light sides.
This navigation is important, because optimal development is not quite so simply achieved by embracing our light qualities and suppressing our dark sides. In the book I am currently writing, I contend that many of the problems that afflict traders and investors in financial markets (greed, fear, overtrading) are not the results of psychological disorders. Rather, they reflect ego attachments that interfere with sound decision-making. From this perspective, good trades come from the soul, not from the ego. And yet we know from biographical accounts that ambition and the desire for achievement drives many of the world’s most successful investors. Their success represents a higher-order integration of ego qualities and light traits: ego and soul.
Kaufman, Yaden, Hyde, and Tsukayama find that there is a negative correlation between our dark and light characteristics, but that correlation only accounts for roughly a quarter of the variance in our scores. Accordingly, the authors suggest, this means that most people possess a mix of light and dark traits. Indeed, they found that dark qualities are positively associated with aspects of goal-seeking, as well as creativity, curiosity, bravery, and leadership. The authors also report that, after controlling for such factors as agreeableness and humility, dark traits are actually positively associated with those qualities of empathy and quiet ego. This may represent one of those higher-order integrations in which the energy and ambition of the ego are channeled constructively through humility and social attachments.
So how can we best navigate our light and dark sides and find our optimal integration? In the financial arena, I’ve witnessed a dramatic shift away from solo money management to the development of trading and portfolio management teams. These include not only teams found in hedge fund and asset management settings but also among proprietary daytraders and even online communities. A noticeable trend among these teams is the use of the trading environment to foster personal development. For example, it is common to find traders in these environments embracing meditation, leadership development, and wellness interventions. We also see those traders engaged in active mentoring, channeling ambitions into teaching, sharing, and the development of new talent. As Mike Bellafiore notes, there is a power found in such team trading. It takes what can be an ego-driven, money-obsessed activity and transforms it into a platform for mutual development. If ego can be harnessed to soul on a trading floor, how much more might we accomplish through our own social networks, work groups, and communities? A great first step toward that integration is participating in the research of Dr. Kaufman, taking the test on dark and light qualities, and then exploring how your traits might drive your success–and the development of others.