My favourite virtue

I’ve heard people talk about a number of virtues and the ones they hold dearest. At weddings we hear Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the virtue he deemed both most mature and most important, love. Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community, names belonging as the most basic human and spiritual need. Thus for him the virtues of inclusion and hospitality are central. More recently in the health care professions the virtue of resiliency has been held up as the most effective tool to address all kinds of challenges.

As I look back at the virtues I was taught, the ones I have learned from wise mentors and the kind of deficits I see in our society today, the most important and valued virtue in my life is consideration. As I look at the people I most respect, like and hold up as examples to others they are persons who always take others into consideration as they make decisions and plans. Being considerate does not equate with martyrdom, considerate people do care for themselves, have fun, and do things that make them, and them alone, happy. But considerate people always have in the back of their minds the thought, “how will this decision affect the other?”

Consideration is the most effective antidote to narcissism and selfishness. By including the other in the decision-making process it adds a layer to the quality and thoughtfulness of our actions. Jesus would act out of consideration in the most powerful way, his understanding of how his words and actions would affect others did not prevent him from saying or doing provocative things. When words like “Who is my mother, who are my brothers?” are attributed to him the message is clear, Jesus may have known that these words are cutting, very edgy, but they still needed to be part of the Gospel legacy. Whoever wrote those words understood the necessity of combining a Jesus of considerate affection with a Jesus of considerate care for those not his immediate kin.

Being considerate is not a license to pull back every time your conscience tell you to speak up, but it is a caution that when tough words are to be spoken, hard actions taken, that we do think about how these responses will affect others. Otherwise we become self-righteous and lose perspective, failing to see the log in our own eye as we go about naming the splinter in our neighbour’s eye.

The colleagues, friends, family members, I have most valued were persons who were considerate in their outlook. I can work with liberals and conservative, emotive and intellectual types, traditionalists and rebels with a cause, but I cannot work with people who lack consideration for others.

It is fairly obvious how consideration plays out in community. As a plan is unveiled you can see the person in front of you either thinking how this strategy will affect those in the shared community or just him/herself. If the first and immediate reaction is “how will this affect me?” you get a very clear idea of what partnership will be like.

The folks I am drawn to are not the ones who do as I wish, or think of me often but those who think of the wider community we both inhabit.