In the previous section you completed the Virtue Test and should have noted down the scores for each virtue on a sheet of paper (also check your email and spam folder for a copy). Make sure you keep these results somewhere where you will be able to find them again in a few months time when you will test again (#4.1 – Test again).
This virtue education project is based on working on one virtue at a time, and you will soon be selecting one virtue on which to work. Before you make this choice, however, take some time to reflect and sharpen your results.
A self-assessment test is not infallible, and you should not blindly trust the numerical scores.
It would be a mistake, for example, to simply take the lowest score and choose to work on that virtue. You may have scored yourself too harshly or too leniently, and that would skew your results. Or it may be that, at this moment of your life, you should not necessarily be working on your ‘weakest‘ virtue, but on a different, ‘weaker‘ virtue.
The scores are indicative, and give you some important leads, but personal reflection will produce sharper results. It could be, for example, that you were struck by a question about a particular vice and, even if it does not appear specifically in your results, you feel that it an area in which you need to work. If you are a Christian, you should take this as an opportunity to listen to the voice of the Spirit, who can guide you in your choices and give you an inner conviction about which part of your character He would have you work on (see John 16:8).
On important way of sharpening your reflection on the virtues is to understand the ways in which virtues can go wrong and fall into vice. Each virtue, in fact, can go wrong in a number of directions and fall into different vices.
For some virtues, there is a simple correspondence with one vice. So, for example, the virtue of generosity can fall into the vice of greed, or the virtue of order is has its counterpart in the vice of unruliness.
But for other virtues, there is more than one possible vice. The virtue of justice, for example, can go wrong through the vice of indifference, but it can also fall short in the vices of dishonesty or unfairness. Each of these vices are corrected by the virtue of justice, but demand a different focus.
Aristotle suggests that virtues can fall either into excess or defect and that virtue is always found in a harmonic ‘middle’ (in medio stat virtus). So, for example, it might be that the results of your Virtue Test have indicated a low score in courage. This could mean two things. It might indicate that courage is defective in your life, and that you need to correct the vice of cowardice. But it may also mean that you have gone too far in the other direction, with an excessive drive to courage meaning that you need to work on the vice of recklessness. This kind of reflection is very important, as it safeguards you from working on the right virtue, but in the wrong direction…
The table below illustrates the vices by excess and defect of the 13 virtues in the Virtue Test.
This is a good tool to sharpen your focus, so take some time to ponder this table. If you were to choose one vice from this list to work on, which would it be?
Now is a good time to read a little more about the virtue(s). The links lead to brief descriptions of the 13 virtues that have been tested (also found in Virtues Unpacked). You may want to focus on two or three of the virtues where you scored lowest.
As you read, ask yourself the questions: ‘Is this describing me?’ ‘Do I feel inside that this is a real area of weakness in my character that I need to work on?’ ‘Is the virtue I am reading about one that I would like to have more of? Which vices do I recognise in my character that are detracting from virtue?’
You should be narrowing down your choices to one virtue. Also search the internet to find out more about the particular virtue that you are considering. Make this a little project to work on a bit at a time, even over a few days. If you are working in a group, this would be a great activity to do together.
A final word of warning about getting this all exactly right. Don’t become paranoid about it. The most important thing is that you have decided to consciously work on your character, so do not worry that you might end up working on ‘the wrong virtue’. You have your entire lifetime to work on virtue.
Remember: any work on any virtue is always right.
When you have concluded your research and reflection, proceed to the final section of this phase where you will select the virtue that will be your challenge in the months ahead.