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WEEK 14: Improve your virtue literacy

Experiment the changing effect of knowing more

Home > #3- Practice > Week 14 – Virtue literacy and examples

Habituation check

Before you engage with the content for this week, take a moment for a habituation check.

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Adding virtue literacy

As continue putting your habituation plan in practice with the support of your character friend, we now add a third element that will accompany the intensive character building stage.  This has to do with virtue literacy.

While it is true that knowledge alone will not change you, it is also true that without knowledge you will not change.  And you you need to know more about what virtue is. That is what we mean by virtue literacy, and that is what we will introduce this week as a further tool that will accompany you for the next 9 weeks.

Virtue literacy uses two powerful dynamics:  the power of knowledge and the power of emulation.  Let’s look at these.

The power of knowledge

It is true that knowledge about virtue alone will not change you. You can, in fact, know everything about virtue and still have a vicious character.

But it is also true that you cannot be changed for virtue without knowledge about virtue.  Knowledge about virtue may not be a sufficient condition to be virtuous, but it is undoubtedly a necessary condition.  It is just like making a cake.  Flour alone will not make a very good cake – it is insufficient. But making a cake without flour is impossible – it is necessary.

Think back to the first few weeks of this programme,

  • You worked through the materials in the #1 – Understand phase.  In those weeks you grew in your knowledge of what virtue is, and began to engage your mind with words and concepts about virtue.
  • When you took the Virtue Test your knowledge grew more, as you began to appreciate with greater clarity what virtues like justice, temperance and constancy look like.
  • This knowledge helped you asses your own character and develop the habituation plan you are now working on.  The  shared knowledge about virtue is also a fundamental glue that holds you and your character friend together, without which you can have a good friendship of pleasure or utility, but not a character friendship.

When it comes to knowledge about virtue, the more, the better.  Do not settle for initial definitions.  Each virtue is a rich mine and it would be sad to simply sit on the surface of such wealth.  The more your mind dwells on what virtue is, the more your character will be shaped  by virtue.

The power of emulation

But alongside ‘theoretical knowledge’, virtue literacy has to do with allowing examples of virtue to shaping your character through the power of emulation.

What happens, for example, when we read about a hero or watch a movie with a particularly stirring example of virtue?  We want to be like that. 

Technically, these are called desires of emulation and these desires to be good are stirred by simply allowing our mind to dwell on examples of good.  These can be living people (e.g. our parents, a mentor or a friend), but they can also be lifted to life from the literature and the past.  If it is true that desire has a determining effect on who we choose to be, stirring desires through good examples is a powerful ally in character education.

What exactly is emulation and how does it work?

Emulation is first of all an emotion.   It is actually somewhat of a distressful emotion, because we perceive ourselves as being inferior to the role model that we are looking at.  But then it quickly becomes positive, because it arouses the desire to be equal or similar to the example.

For emulation to work, several things need to be in place:

  1. The example is within reach.  If we look at a glorious hero that we know we will never be able to imitate, then we will only have admiration. What we need is, instead, inspiration to change ourselves.
  2. We do not fall into envy or spite.  Sometimes our reaction against someone that is superior to ourselves can go in the wrong direction and we want to crush that person to emerge ourselves.  That will never lead to character growth.
  3. We start with observation of a role model.  Here, again, is the element of knowledge.  We cannot emulate what we do not know, so we need to intentionally choose, read, watch and listen to sources that have positive character examples.
  4. We recognise the qualities that we are missing, and want to possess them ourselves.  So, for example, we read the story of Ghandi and see that we are not as courageous and determined as he was in addressing injustice.  As we see that, we want to become more like him.
  5. We move to action.  Emulation moves from knowledge, to emotion and desire and then to action.  Without action, we will be informed, and maybe even internally formed in our emotions, but not fully transformed in our character.

So, the plan to build virtue literacy includes both increasing virtue knowledge and engaging with examples of virtue.

9 Weeks – 9 virtues

What will you do in practice?

For the next 9 weeks, as you continue your habituation and as connect regularly with your character friend, you will build your virtue literacy around 9 virtues.  These have been carefully selected to give you an appreciation of variety and include cardinal virtues, social virtues, personal virtues, intellectual virtues and theological virtues..

For each virtue you will be given some definitions, some stories, and some biblical explorations into that virtue.

You will start next week with the first virtue that you need to have if you are going to grown in any of the other virtues:  the virtue of humility.

Additional resources

You are working on phase #3 – Practice.  Here is the next activity >  Week 15 – Being humble

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