This site is meant to be a tool to help you grow in character and virtue by leading you through a practical, four-phase plan to nourish virtuous character.
Let us be clear upfront. This site is about practice. Granted, there will be a little bit of initial theory, but the core objective of this site is not to inform you but to help form you, and to guide you through a practical plan to grow in virtue.
The site is structured as a 28 week plan, but can also be used in many other ways and in a variety of contexts which include individual use, use in communities and/or use in a variety of educational institutions (see more on Context of Practice).
But first the why question. Why should you give time to this? Here are three reasons that will hopefully motivate and inspire you to invest in character and virtue education.
N.1 – You will flourish. The first and greatest result of virtue education is you. Virtue education will contribute to make you a better person and therefore a flourishing and happier human being.
Virtue education is, in fact, based on the assumption that happiness is a derivate of goodness. Bad people are not happy, no matter how much pleasure they manage to accumulate or how many good circumstances they manage to orchestrate. Good people instead are happy in the deepest sense, even when life is difficult.
Virtue education is also based on the assumption that human beings are designed for virtue. Since you are designed for virtue, when you develop virtue you go back to your roots, and become genuinely you. Identity is important. And in this project your identity will not constructed arbitrarily in a void, but reclaimed from the DNA of your being.
N.2 – You will perform better. A second great result of virtue education is in what you do. When you are a better person, in fact, you will to things better and achieve better results. Just as it takes self-control to complete a marathon, so it takes virtue to perform better in all areas of life. Being more courageous will make you a better entrepreneur. Being more compassionate will make you a better leader. Being more patient will make you a better father.
There is a lot of focus on competences today. We are told that we need to develop skills and competences in order to perform and achieve results. But competences without character are little more than shallow techniques that rarely stand the test of real life. The ability to learn requires humility. The ability to work in teams requires self-control. The ability to solve problems requires diligence and creativity.
As you focus on educating your character in virtue, you will achieve competences as a natural additional benefit.
N.3 – You will improve the world around you. A third benefit as individuals grow in virtue is that society improves. This is because a healthy society is formed of flourishing individuals who perform well, and we have just seen that both these objectives are achieved in character and virtue education.
Imagine a society where individuals are perfectly just, perfectly self-controlled, perfectly wise and perfectly courageous. We would not have injustice, crime, ignorance or apathy. Likewise, imagine the nightmare of a society where none of these virtues are present in any of the citizens.
Virtue education impacts communities, large or small. It is virtues like love, generosity and shared passion that make communities flourish. Contrary-wise, disfunctional communities are usually rooted in the vices of its members. This is especially true of its leaders. If the character leaders of communities are viceful – proud, greedy or power-hungry – there is little hope for prosperity in the community.
Virtue education also deepens the most intimate level of our social worlds that is found in one-on-one friendships and in our marriages. That is because there is nothing like shared virtue that binds human beings together. So, working on your character and improving your virtue may be the most important investment you make in your entire life.
So, what actually are the outcomes of virtue education? In beginning, let us start with the end, to consider how you might actually change? Read the story of Beatrice.
Beatrice’s friends knew her as a selfish person and crazy driver. Behind the wheel, as in life in general, she thought mostly of herself as she made illegal U-turns, did not respect pedestrian crossings and had little regard for speed limits.
As she began to work on her character, her attention was drawn to the fact that this behaviour demonstrated a lack of the virtue of justice, which she learned had to do with respecting the rights of others. She was not, in fact, thinking about others as she drove, but was yielding to the vice selfishness, thinking mostly about herself, her schedule, her being annoyed with traffic and slow drivers, so on. So, she put her will to action and made a commitment to replace bad driving habits with good ones, placing a small sign on the dashboard of her car ‘Drive with Justice’.
Initially it was difficult, and the bad habits continued to prevail. But, as the months passed and Beatrice continually forced herself to obey traffic rules, she began to feel good about her driving attitude, and a new sense of healthy satisfaction in her virtuous behaviour. Occasionally she would still run the odd red light, but, now she felt bad about it. Once, as a sort of act of penance after running a red light, she even stopped at other side of the intersection, watched the light turn green, then red and then green again, before she continued her journey.
The more she reinforced good driving habits, the easier these habits became. The temptations coming from impatience diminished, and the desires to break rules were replaced by desires to be just and respect others.
After about 6 months her reputation changed to being the safest driver in the city. But a much deeper change had spilled over into other areas of her life. Her friends, in fact, began to comment that she was much less selfish, more concerned about others around her and generally a much better person to be around. Something deep and lasting had, in fact, taken place in her life.
The story of Beatrice illustrates five descriptors of genuine growth in character that you can hope for yourself (note, these are not chronological steps but occur organic growth features as you change) [JA].
2. Secondly, virtue will bend your will to action. This happens as you make decisions to act in ways that are virtuous. Beatrice made a commitment to change her driving habits, even using a visual reminder to reinforce her will. Bending our will to action can initially be very difficult, because we are choosing actions that go in a different direction than what we are used to. It is like straightening a crooked rod that initially requires much pressure. But, as we saw in Beatrice, the more we act on our will, the easier it becomes. As you grow in virtue, you will increasingly look for experiences that put your commitment to what is good into practice.
3. Thirdly, virtue will change your emotions. As she worked on her habits, Beatrice began to ‘feel good’ about doing the right thing and ‘feeling bad’ about breaking rules. This may be unexpected, but it is very powerful dynamic because it means that, as you repeat virtue-related actions, you cultivate and recognise good feelings that are roused by virtue and bad feelings that are roused by vice. As your character changes and you increasingly become a virtuous person, you can anticipate feeling a deep sense of happiness and attraction to what is good.
4. Fourthly, virtue will determine your desires. This means that, as you practice virtue you will increasingly want to see changes in your character for the good. Whereas initially your will will be more active in cultivating virtue, as you progress, it will be your desires that naturally motivate you to do what is goo. Beatrice began with a choice of the will, but as her character began to change she fond herself more attracted to virtue than to vice. If temptation can be defined as being torn between the desire for vice and desire for virtue, educating virtue will strengthen your desires for virtue and lessen the forces of temptation.
5. Lastly, virtue will influence your expression. Simply put, this is how others perceive you. Initially, Beatrice’s friends perceived her as as a crazy driver, but even more deeply, they perceived her character as being selfish rather than just. As we saw with Beatrice, her friends no longer perceived her as a selfish person, but as one who was respectful of others around her. The same can happen to you as you develop character that is perceived by others as virtuous.
Changing your attention, actions, emotions, desires and expression are fantastic outcomes! But they do not come easy. As with all worthwhile things, there is a price to pay to grow in your character and virtue. Growth in character is not something that happens overnight, and you (or your group) should plan to spend 28 of weeks working through the four stages around which this book is built. At the beginning it will be difficult, and will require the continual exercise of your conscious will. Only in time, as you grow in virtue and as habituation practices produce their effects, will you experience virtue as a natural part of your character.
If this is what you want, press on. This site is for you!
(read more about the author of this site, Marvin Oxenham – PhD)