Sunday, April 22, 2007

Virtue Theory in Action!

Have I mentioned how terribly busy I've been this semester? :-)

Let me now share how I've been able to endure all the pressure I've been under.

Whenever the stress started to get to me, I would ask myself, "How would a fine person respond?" By "fine person," I think of the Greek word for "virtue" which can also be translated "personal excellence." Ancient Greek virtue theory was not so much about developing particular virtues (simply and morally understood) as about developing virtue, or personal excellence. This notion was broader than morality alone, and was more than just developing the sum total of particular virtues.

It's about being a fine person. It's about being morally good, but good in other ways too: being good at what you do, for example, and living with style and grace.

There's not one way of being a fine person. There are as many ways as there are people. Your virtue (excellence) in part expresses your individuality: what you uniquely bring into the world.

And so remembering this one question during times of stress is very powerful: what would a fine person do?

A fine person wouldn't just collapse in a heap and cry. (I do this sometimes, but almost always in privacy. I think it's okay to do this in privacy -- it's just not good to take up permanent residence in this state of being!)

A fine person wouldn't lash out at everyone.

A fine person, instead, would usually be able to put the situation in perspective, and maybe even laugh.

A fine person would see everyone involved as allies, working together on a common problem to be solved (instead of casting some as "friends" and others as "enemies, deserving of punishment").

A fine person would ask, "what can I learn from this?"

A fine person would ask, "how can I respond in a way that permits this situation to make me stronger, wiser, more compassionate?"

A fine person would recognize when he or she is brought to his or her limits, would recognize those limits as temporary, and would be assertive in claiming time to get the rest, or the additional information, etc., he or she may need before making crucial decisions. If this is impossible, he or she would point out to those pressuring him or her to act quickly that they must then be willing to assume their share of responsibility for the decision he or she is thus pressed to make.

A fine person would try to be cheerful and respectful, even when not feeling particularly cheerful or happy with how others are behaving. But a fine person is not a pushover. A fine person maintains her or his own dignity throughout the process as well.

These, at least, are some of the general characteristics I think of when considering how a fine person would respond to life's challenges.

Note that I don't claim to live up to this myself.

But having the presence of mind to remember this and try is a start!

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