The Time for Virtue
When angry, frustrated, or confused, ask yourself, “What would it look like if I acted from a place of virtue -- from love, wisdom, courage, forgiveness, and self-control?”
Last month I wrote about the importance of values, particularly in times of uncertainty. I asserted that if you are aware of and live consistently with your values, you will flourish. If you don’t, you will suffer. Here’s the incredible thing about values – there are so many of them. It is this diversity that makes human beings so unique. The odds of any person having the same ten values in the same order of importance is roughly one in fifty quadrillion (that’s sixteen zeros)! To put that into perspective, you would need approximately sixty-six million earths (at current population levels) for that to happen.
To function effectively as a society, it is critical that we appreciate and honor this incredible diversity. At the same time, we must seek to understand what unites us as one people. This is where virtue comes into play. Values are the beliefs that individuals hold as most important. Virtues, on the other hand, are the values that societies hold as most important regardless of individual differences. Scholars have found that the following six virtues are shared universally across the wide spectrum of religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions.
Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal; examples include bravery, perseverance, and authenticity (honesty).
Justice: Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life; examples include fairness, leadership, and citizenship or teamwork.
Humanity: Interpersonal strengths that involve “tending and befriending” others; examples include love and kindness.
Temperance: Strengths that protect against excess; examples include forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-control.
Wisdom: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge; examples include creativity, curiosity, judgment, and perspective (providing counsel to others).
Transcendence: Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and thereby provide meaning; examples include gratitude, hope, and spirituality.
There are also studies that examine contemporary opinions. They reveal similar universal virtues: honesty, respect, kindness, openness, tolerance, and love.
So here it is. Our timeless blueprint for functioning as a society. It counsels us to respect the immense diversity of the human condition while adhering to a core set of virtues that unite us as one people. It is in times of difficulty that this blueprint becomes essential. As the philosopher Seneca wrote, “Disaster is virtue’s opportunity.”
As you try to make sense of and navigate through the incredible uncertainty of these times, I encourage you to find refuge in virtues. When angry, frustrated, or confused, ask yourself, “What would it look like if I acted from a place of virtue – from love, wisdom, courage, forgiveness, and self-control?” “And what would it look like if I could begin to see others through the lens of what unites us, not divides us?” Let virtue be your guide in doing your part to make this world a better place for all of us.
My favorite quote of the week is one I found from Jerry Seinfeld, responding to the suggestion that willpower is what drives greatness: “I'm going to adjust your perspective a little bit. That was no will. What you were using, what Michael Jordan uses and what I use, is not will. It's love. When you love something, it's a bottomless pool of energy. That's where the energy comes from. But you have to love it sincerely. Not because you're going to make money from it, be famous, or get whatever you want to get. When you do it because you love it, then you can find yourself moving up and getting really good at something you wanted to be really good at. Will is like not eating dessert or something that's just forcing yourself. You can't force yourself to be what you have made yourself into. You can love it. Love is endless. Will is finite.”
For great advice on how to make sense of the anger and frustration you may be experiencing, read this post by author and Stoicism scholar Massimo Pigliucci. It is well worth your time.
I found this article comparing the effectiveness of violent and non-violent protests fascinating. The author’s research has found that non-violent protests are twice as effective as violent protests in effectuating change. And that 3.5% of a population regularly and peacefully protesting is what it takes to change the world.