The process of intelligence via negativa is one in which I’m always tickled pink to find new applications.
If you’re not familiar with via negativa, read the following: “A philosophical approach to theology which asserts that no finite concepts or attributes can be adequately used of God, but only negative terms”. That’s Oxford’s. But in reference to the study of knowledge or epistemology, the via negativa process defines thing by what they are not. This process has the benefit of being more sound. The common example is that of the black swan. If I see 1 million white swans in a row, this still cannot make me 100% certain that only white swans exist. It is all positive information. But if I see just one black swan, I can safely assert with 100% confidence that not all swans are white. The via negativa process carries great weight.
And so in application to character development does the process of via negativa carry weight. Instead of defining the characteristics of the person you would most like to emulate, define the characteristics of the person you would most despise. Don’t personalize this by saying, “Oh that’s Jerry down the street for sure. He’s a dick.” Because when you personalize, you start getting into some tricky business, since you can never know how Jerry’s life experiences have effected him mentally and how hard he tries to be a good person. Instead simply create a fictional person to whose motivations, life experiences and underlying thought processes you are 100% privy.
And then work your hardest to never be that person. The process of defining that thing you most detest does not need to be a morbid one. It’s supposed to uncover or put in new light what you’re working towards.