“He that has energy enough to root out a vice should go further, and try to plant a virtue in its place.” ~Charles Caleb Colton
This is part 2 of the 5 part series on Self Caring: Healthy Body, Mind, Heart (emotional/spiritual aspect), Character and Lifestyle. This post focuses on Character and Virtues. The last post on Self-Discipline as healthy lifestyle is here.
This post on Character and Virtue is divided in 2 parts, this is part one. Part 2 on developing Character and a Personal Moral Code would be published on Sunday.
What are virtues and vices?
Virtues are the morally excellent qualities in a person. Vices are the bad qualities that harm self as well as others. As opposed to vices, virtues are inherently good for the person and often for others too.
Why we should be virtuous?
For a life of fulfillment, happiness, inner harmony, clarity, success, peace, stronger relationships, deeper bonds, abundance and prosperity, we should try to be virtuous. Since all our progress and experience that’s in our hands is ruled by our virtues and values, it’s essential that we try to be more virtuous.
Also it’s important to answer the opposite question: Why you shouldn’t be virtuous? You shouldn’t be if you want to live with guilt, being hurt, poor ethics, self harm, hurting others, and essentially acquire all vices and damage they bring on a personal and community level.
How to be virtuous?
“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” -August Wilson
To be virtuous requires self-observation, contemplation and correction of our thoughts, behavior and actions. Are we thinking and doing good? What are the bad qualities and habits we have? Where we can improve?
From a more practical perspective, pick up something bad that you do/think or good you want to do/think and slowly try to practice it on a small level. This is general advice. Below, with each virtue, I give points specific to it that are helpful in developing the virtue.
Isn’t Virtue an outdated Concept, irrelevant in modern times?
“Focus on making yourself better, not on thinking that you are better.” – Bohdi Sanders.
No. Virtues would be relevant as long as machines don’t completely take over us and as long as thinking and acting human beings would exist – because there will always be possibility of becoming a better version of ourselves.
Making Virtues Mainstream Again
“We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.” ― John Steinbeck
We live in a society of advertisement and marketing that emphasizes on vices and temptations and how it’s good to indulge in them, all to sell their products and services. They make people who don’t indulge as “uncool” people. The sad aspect is not only they succeed in selling their products but they succeed in making this thinking mainstream. Let’s change this.
Embrace virtues. From one perspective, purpose of life is to be the best version of ourselves. Embrace virtues and appreciate people for their virtues. And especially parents, try to teach your children about why and how to be virtuous and encourage them to be virtuous.
The Popular 7 Virtues
Following and a few other virtues have been mentioned repeatedly in religious and social texts, often as the opposite of the 7 cardinal sins: The virtues that have been chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. I think this needs revision.
10 Essential Virtues for Modern Times
There are too many virtues and it’s not possible to imbibe all virtues. So I tried to narrow down the list of essential virtues to the following 10. Each virtue is followed with a brief discussion, set of associated virtues and quick glance over important points to develop them. I think these are the most essential virtues one should dedicate life to developing:
Virtue 1: Kindness
“Searching all directions with one’s awareness, one finds no one dearer than oneself. In the same way, others are fiercely dear to themselves.
So one should not hurt others, if one loves oneself.” –Udana.
Kindness remains as relevant now as it was 3000 years ago. Kindness and the level at which we can feel and practice it is what, more than any other trait, separates us from animals.
Associated virtues: Helpfulness, Caring, Charity, Loving, Altruism, Equity, Selflessness, Inclusiveness.
Developing the Virtue: Count to 5 before judging anyone. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes before judging someone. Recognize good in people. Smile more. Try to leave everyone or at least someone (feeling) better than you found them. Help people in need. Be there. If can’t help, don’t hurt. Don’t increase anyone’s burden if you can’t share it.
Virtue 2: Action
“It’s not who am I but what I do that defines me.” – Batman Begins.
We spend too much time in talking, thinking, feeling and reacting and hardly any in doing. From armchair activism at community level to procrastination and distraction at personal level, our problems are only magnified as we take less and less actions and find more excuses to avoid our work. I could’ve put this along with self-discipline. But it’s high time that we begin to reward people who act more than people who talk. Value action more than words and intentions. Appreciate people who act.
Associated Virtues: Hard work, Decisiveness, Diligence, Progress.
Developing the Virtue: Start small. Start. Don’t wait for right moment or right feeling or motivation. Associate work with cause you care about. Plan minimally. Schedule your time. Be committed. Start small. Start now. Start. Do.
Virtue 3: Positivity and Emotional Hygiene
“There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labor of devotion and love! The colors are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish! And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing?” –C. JoyBell
Lot of people I interact with are negative towards their lives, their friends and family, pessimistic towards their abilities, passive towards bright possibilities. Lot of us feel too much sadness, guilt, inferiority, take people’s opinion to heart.
Emotional Hygiene: We don’t live in dirty, messy environment then why should we allow our consciousness to reside amongst negative, self-sabotaging, self harming, self impairing thoughts? Practice emotional hygiene. Confront your negative thoughts take necessary steps to address them and if they recur purge them, eliminate them.
Associated Virtues: Patience, Liveliness, Meaningful Distractions, Forgiveness, Encouragement.
Developing the Virtue: Emotional well-being is part of the series on self caring and there’d be a detailed post next week.
Virtue 4: Resilience and Self Preservation
“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive. ” – Jamais Cascio
Life is hard. This is a truth we should try to understand and accept. Circumstances would probably never be as perfect as we would like them to be. We’d meet with defeats, rejections, indifference, hatred, pain, sadness and the most difficult to deal with – loss of loved ones. And we’d have to live.
Survivalism: We must have an unflinching love for self and self-preservation. We must tattoo this in our brain that our life is a priceless, precious gift to us by nature/God/probability and we must try to preserve it at all costs. No matter what comes our way we have to survive and live.
Associated Virtues: Grit, Resolve, Self Love, Courage, Self Caring, Patience.
Developing the Virtue: Value self and your life beyond anything. Believe in self. Prepare for unfavorable situations before hand.
Virtue 5: Courage and Individuality
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
It takes courage to follow our dreams, be ourselves and have individual opinions where so many indulge in group thinking, follow the rat race and echo mass opinions without thinking through. It takes courage to stand up to our challenges, our enemies but even more to our friends, family as sometimes we need to. Sometimes we’ve to choose what we believe in, especially when we’re right, even if we’re in minority or completely alone.
Associated Virtues: Saying “no”. Boldness. Self Expression.
Developing the Virtue: Stand up for what you believe in. Express it. Manifest it. Encourage others. Raise your voice. Don’t lose who you are for others.
Virtue 6: Self Discipline and Self Regulation
“No evil propensity of the human heart is so powerful that it may not be subdued by discipline.” -Seneca
In a sense we’re sophisticated apes and our monkey minds can’t cope with so many temptations, distractions and desires especially when they’re so easy to satiate in modern world. It wants to be gratified right now but is simply insatiable. Its demands are unending. Discipline and self-regulation are what we need to navigate through all the distractions, improve our self and get things done.
Associated Virtues: Developing all virtues and all growth depends on level of self-discipline. It’s a core virtue. Temperance.
Developing the Virtue: Start small. Practice tough love. Eliminate distractions. Work in quite, secluded environment. I consider discipline as lifestyle and this was part 1 of self caring, here’s a post detailing how to develop self-discipline.
Virtue 7: Awareness
“Be the witness of your thoughts.” – Buddha
This is probably the most important easily available but rarely utilized faculties of our mind. By awareness I mean observing the thoughts that arise in our mind. This practice alone is great. But later on, in the beginning we can slowly steer the thoughts in the direction of our choice. Later when proficient, we can completely change our thinking in a moment. Mastering our awareness and thinking is almost a superpower. You can take actions, you can truly experience or completely alter your emotions, change mood in an instant, stay resilient, positive and respond proactively rather than merely reacting.
Time Management: Managing time is not in our control. What we can manage is our awareness, thoughts, focus and then take actions accordingly. Planning, scheduling, tracking etc. is efficient but you actually have to get things done and that comes easily when you can manage your thoughts.
Associated Virtues: Mindfulness, Time, Energy and Focus Management.
Developing the Virtue: Meditate. Observe, visualize, confront and clarify your thoughts. Utilize meaningful distractions.
Virtue 8: Dedication to Truth
“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Shakespeare
Dedication to truth means consistently revising our map of reality and not being deluded by daydreaming, illusions and how we want things to be to make ignore how things are. If you don’t even acknowledge the problem, you can’t solve it. Be honest with self.
Being truthful to others is also very good. Truth almost always is better than sweet talking.
Associated Virtues: Truthfulness, Humility.
Developing the Virtue: Continuously revise your map of reality i.e. what you believe to be true. Don’t let daydreaming and idle reveries drift you away from truth. Even if truth is harsh or inconvenient, problems can only be solved when you actually observe and accept there indeed is some problem. Don’t white lie i.e. lie to yourself. Be open to challenge of your view of reality from other people.
Virtue 9: Learning
“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” –Jiddu Krishnamurti
One of my favorite virtues. In the age of information, ignorance is choice. Lot of knowledge is few taps or clicks away. From improving ourselves, to progressing in our careers, strengthening our relationships, resolving our problems – if we seek properly, we’ll find the answers. This idea should be considered very empowering. The onus of finding answers to our problems is on us.
Associated Virtues: Curiosity, Observation, Introspection and Reflection. Wisdom, Financial, Survival & other Knowledge. Learning from setbacks.
Developing the Virtue: Be curious, observe, introspect, reflect, correct and assimilate. See which areas of your life can you resolve/improve through knowledge. Then seek the answers.
Virtue 10: Self Caring
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” – Sharon Salzberg
Associated Virtues: Being Healthy (Physically, Mentally, Emotionally), Being Virtuous, Being Disciplined.
Developing the Virtue: Remember, you deserve happiness, peace and your own love too. Begin by taking care of your emotions and lifestyle. Take care of your health. Since this is self referencing, when this 5 part series on self-caring concludes, I’d link each part and the conclusion here.
Bonus Virtue: Discernment and Decisiveness
“Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all.” – Brian Tracy
This could have been put alongside other virtues but I found it important enough to make a point about it. Everyday, we’ve to make hundreds of decisions, choices and judgements. The ability to minimize decisions and making effective choices can really boost up our productivity, stress and help us excel in our work. Indecision and delay diminish progress.
Associated Virtues: Judgment, Deciding what is right and wrong, Balancing.
Developing the Virtue: Always try to make some choice. Practice. Plan before hand. This would also be covered more in the cognitive aspect of Self Caring in future blog post.
A Word of Caution on Extremes of Virtues
Virtues need to practiced with balance. Too much of virtue isn’t always a good thing. In some cases people can take advantage of you, in other cases you could be harming yourself. As Adam Grant puts it:
Too little of a virtue is bad, but so is too much. Aristotle believed that every virtue lies between vices of deficiency and excess. Too little humor is dry; too much is silly. Too little pride makes us meek; too much breeds narcissism. Too much self-restraint leaves you doing homework while your friends are tailgating. Too little self-restraint means you’ll really regret eating that fourth Scotsman Dog.
I hope this post has been helpful to you. Next post on Ethics, Morals, Values, developing Character and Personal Code and hows and whys of it would be published on Sunday.
I’d conclude the Self Caring series in about Mid June. Then I’d be writing about Death, Dying and Dealing with Loss of Loved Ones because it’s a topic so many of us struggle with but we don’t talk much about and so there’s little info on how to make sense of life.
Did you like the post? Where can we improve? Please give your valuable feedback. Thanks a lot for reading!
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Be kind. Stay positive. Radiate happiness. Goodbye. Take care. Keep Trailing on your Untrailed Path. ?