Virtue: A Virtual Mystery

April 2, 2015 by Charlie Hedges − 0 Comments

“A Good Man is Hard to Find”

Not only is this the title of Flannery O’Connor’s most famous short story but, more important, it’s also the mantra of almost every unmarried woman in probably the entire world. When I was a minister to a thousand single adults it certainly was.

So what are the attributes of this “good man?” I imagine if I were to take a poll I would most likely find things like: kind, tenderhearted, responsive to need, loving, spiritual, faithful, sense of humor, and the like. Although many would never admit it, but good looking and in shape never hurts!

Let’s quit picking on women and confess that men have many (and probably a little more “edgy”) of the same requirements for a “good woman.”

So it’s true, “A good man or woman is hard to find.” But the definitions above have probably surfaced in only the last 50-60 years. Prior to that, a “good person” was defined by his or her character, not by their good looks or engaging personality.

Seneca, the Stoics and Virtue

I’ve been reading the Letters of the Stoic philosopher, Lucius Seneca. (I guess I must have run out of 50 Shades books.) Seneca was a most admirable thinker who was born around the same time as Christ and was the teacher of the most infamous Roman emperor, Nero.

He was accredited with controlling the maddeningly hot-tempered young man until he finally got himself fired for it. It seems burning Rome was more interesting than some old guy’s philosophy.

Seneca, and Stoic philosophy in general, offers scores, if not hundreds, of disciplines pertaining to sound living back then and today as well. One that has struck me the strongest so far is his adherence to Virtue. Of course virtue remains an essential element of good character today. But…

Uh-Oh

I dare you: Define Virtue. Don’t look it up. Just think it through.

Gotcha, huh? Well, me too. If asked, I’d probably sound like Slim Shady (if you listen to Eminem you know who that is) who would probably say something like, Ughhhhh…” Truly, when I thought about it I realized that I could not adequately define the word. And yet, I feel that virtue is an essential quality in what I would view as outstanding character.

Weird, isn’t it? That I would so highly value something I can’t even define. Talk about the “second-hand beliefs” I wrote about in a previous post. You know, those important beliefs you were told by someone of influence but you have never truly adopted them as your own because you haven’t taken the time to ponder them.

So, back to our advisor Seneca and the Stoics. Virtue is a huge word with a huge “field of meaning.” (It can mean a whole lot of things.) But, fortunately, what I read boiled virtue down to 4 Essential Characteristics: (1) Wisdom, (2) Courage, (3) Self-Control, and (4) Justice.

Dare to Be Different

Wow. When I think of a “Good Man” I have to admit those four qualities are not the first that come to mind. And yet they should be! They have been of the most highly regarded character qualities for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But, today, we have become so enculturated by flimsy American TV and movie hype that we have lost touch.

You gotta be cool, yet sensitive, loyal yet independent, a bad ass with a soft heart, knockout good-looking but humble about it. And you have to love dogs. Crap! I see most dogs as over yapping nuisances. (Except my son’s dog, Bo.)

I think it comes down to your goal: Do you want to win a personality contest or do you want to have what it takes to impact the world? It really doesn’t take long to answer because you know too many popular people that are shallow, self-indulged, inconsiderate and just plain ole assholes. (Sorry.)

However, the few virtuous people you know are difficult to envy because they are so quiet and humble about their virtue. It’s not something they flaunt.

So, why not “make it your ambition” to be a person of virtue? That is, a person with stealth goodness rather than boisterous pomposity. It’s not easy, especially not in our popular culture. You’d have to be a genuine radical. Many would call you weird or self-righteous, simply because you have what they honestly desire but are too lazy to seek it.

Homework

I can’t speak for you, but, personally, I am a long way from being a truly virtuous man. Oh, I do have my moments. Some days I am “a good man.” I bet you are too. But then there are the other days the characters of Pulp Fiction are much more attractive to me than Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.

Why don’t you and I make it our ambition to…

  1. Act with Wisdom: don’t do what is merely good; do what is right!
  1. Respond with Courage: don’t follow the crowd; stand up for what you believe and protect the ones you love.
  1. Employ Self-Control: don’t do it cause it “feels good;” fight temptation with all your might and with the help of God.
  1. Administer Justice: don’t take advantage of the disadvantaged; fight for the poor and the weak and the disenfranchised.

My, My, My. What the world would be like!

We’re difference-makers, right? Just think of the difference we could make if we made it “our ambition to be a man or woman of virtue.”

We could change the world!!!

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