Virtue. It’s a word I never much cared for. When I thought of virtue the images that came to mind included pious people who practiced a reticent approach to life, that is wherever possible use caution, patience, prudence, a kind of inner serve where strength is measured less by what you do and more by what you have avoided doing. That kind of piety, those kind of virtues, never appealed to me. I see myself as active, reaching out, making mistakes but not ceasing to try. The virtues I most often heard about in church and in other institutions were patience, loyalty, moderation. Rarely did I hear much about the virtues of courage or risk.
But as I get older I am coming around to virtue, I see more and more the way virtue is a resting place and anchor for people in situations where there is no liberation or innovation or new life to be found. When life hands you a challenges that tells you the right thing is to be with someone who needs you, and needs every part of you, there isn’t much one can do except accept it and find a sturdy faith to make it through day by day.
I lament how sad this can be but there is deep down some resiliency that comes with such a deep mooring in virtue. I call it “peace of mind”, that sense that through your loyalty, consistency, and presence you are doing what is right, you are being virtuous, you are doing what needs to be done, even when no one is looking. That kind of “stiff upper lip” resolve is not much in fashion these days, and I have never been much of a cheerleader for it, but it has its place. There comes a time in everyone’s life when just getting through something is all one can reasonably expect.
The problem that presents itself to one who has found peace in solve and constancy is when (to return to the sailing metaphor) the anchor and mooring are no longer necessary, when there is no more need to stay close to the shore. When the bad weather has ended, even when that weather has brought with it death and mortality, the sunshine and blue skies offer up other possibilities. What virtues then are required?
I admire and respect the generations who came before me, they got through Wars, economic depression, famine, fascism, and did so with those virtues of solve and persistence. As Winston Churchill would say, “never give up, never give up, never!” But when the storm ended and the skies cleared many were reluctant and resistant to sail with the wind. Those missed opportunities seem to underlie the attachment people have to passive virtues, to a self-understanding of survival and conformity.
I wish my generation and the ones that have come along since would have more resolve and a well of delayed gratification. It isn’t always “all about me”. Yet we have embraced the virtue that life does have the potential for joy. That it need not be just about survive. My generation LOVES the word thrive. It sounds like survive but it has an entirely different feel.
If you examine the virtues of life which ones speak to you? Which ones help you to “stick with it” and which one help you to spread your wings?” The key is context. Sometimes I need an anchor and sometimes I need a sail.