Loading. Please wait...

WEEK 20: Being diligent

See this civic virtue in your life 

Home > #3- Practice > Week 20 – Being diligent

Diligence is the virtue that you will be thinking about this week as you continue your habituation plan.

Habituation check

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

Email me these results

A virtue for work

Life is work.  Sometimes paid work, sometimes unpaid work.  Sometimes the menial work of simple duties, sometimes the inspired work of great genius and sometimes the work of recreation and leisure.

Within a broader definition, we can consider any of the following as examples of work:

  • laying bricks to build a house
  • going shopping and cooking
  • preparing carefully for our summer vacations
  • making our bed and tidying up our room
  • doing our homework
  • compiling footnotes for an academic thesis
  • completing a piece of pottery (as in the picture)
  • writing poetry or composing music
  • training carefully for sporting competitions
  • and so on…

If the fact that life is work sounds like a dismal outlook to you, reconsider.  Work is not an evil, but a privileged expression of our human nature.   You may have heard your friends say that they do not want to ‘live to work’, but rather that they want to ‘work to live’. You may believe that yourself.  But think again.  Is work something evil that must be endured, or something that can be a deep source of joy and satisfaction?  Think of a life without work: reality would be dismal both for civic society and for you.

A long time ago, Aristotle suggested that life’s greatest joys are not what we do apart from the work of our life, but with the work of our life.   So what are the virtues that accompany us as we work?

Actually most all of the virtues can be applied to work: courage, temperance, patience, justice, humility and so forth.  But the one virtue that stands out for its relevance to work is the virtue of diligence.

Is the virtue of diligence in your character?

Diligence is ongoing zealous attention to your actions and work.  Notice:

  • It is ongoing – diligence is something that lasts over time and hence includes the virtue of constancy
  • It is zealous – diligence means that work with a passion to do well, which includes the positive virtue of ambition that finds legitimate pride in achievement
  • It needs attention – in diligence there is a care of detail which includes the virtue of attentiveness, together with an awareness of where improvement is needed and a creative commitment to excellence
  • It relates to all your actions, whether at home, school or in the office, at work or at play, alone or in community.

A diligent person exhibits a work ethic, meaning that there is a moral commitment to doing what needs to be done and doing it well, even when no one is looking and even when we are not being paid for what we do. This might also be called the virtue of duty, that you ‘sense’ and abide by.

Diligence can be seen in very practical expressions like punctuality, where you are on time, you do things within the right time frame and make a wise use of your time.   But diligence is also seen in the virtue of orderliness that contrasts the natural chaos and disorder of life by working at keeping things in a place of beauty and order.

Together with diligence, we can think about decency as living in conformity to right standards of purity, cleanliness and dignity. Decency includes the ordering of one’s person, things, speech, sexuality and a right relationship with food and other substances. 

Does this describe you? If so, well done, you are a diligent person.

The opposing vices

The deficiency vices of diligence can easily be seen in laziness, sloth and acedia.

The excesses of diligence are not that easy to spot. Increasingly however, we see obsessive–compulsive behaviours and overly controlling attitudes that evidence misdirected diligence. Those that are seen as workaholics have also fallen off the deep end of diligence, where work has become the only end in life at the cost all else.

Do any of these describe you?  These are vices that drain the vitality out of life. Work needs to be mitigated by the practice of recreation, for diligence is also about resting well and enjoying the goodness of life. If you are lacking in diligence, and if your score in the Virtue Test was low in this virtue, then you might need to work on this in your character.

A story of diligence

The Choice of Hercules is an ancient story told by Socrates that has inspired many generations and has been depicted by artists throughout history.

The story goes as follows [DM].

Long before Hercules became a Greek hero, young Hercules found himself at a fork in the road, where he stopped to contemplate his future & what course of life he should pursue. Uncertain about which path to take in life, he was approached by two goddesses, each coming from one direction.

One of the goddesses rushes to ensure she meets Hercules first. She is an overly dressed and seductive woman that craves attention.

She tells Hercules her friends call her Happiness, but her real name was Vice or “Kakia.” She promises Hercules that if he followed her down her path — he would have a life filled with pleasure beyond most men’s wildest dreams. An easy life without any hardships or struggle. A shortcut to Happiness, as she put it. All Hercules had to do was follow her and forever be out of the reach of pain & misery.

The other goddess listens and then approaches Hercules. She is a humble and plain-dressed woman, though naturally beautiful. When asked her name: she answered some call me Labour, but others know me as “Virtue.”

To Hercules’s surprise, she tells him, “I have nothing to promise you, young Hercules, except what you will earn through your strength.” She tells him that if he follows her path — he will have to face many hardships, perhaps more than most men can handle and that he will have to suffer and endure significant losses along the way.

However, she tells him that this path will allow him to prove himself to the gods and that he would earn true happiness and eternal fame by reflecting on his own praiseworthy and noble deeds. She ends by telling Hercules a life of easy comforts and pleasure is merely an illusion.

After listening to both women, Hercules looks at Virtue and says, “I will take thee as my guide! The road of Labour and honest effort shall be mine. He put his hand into that of Virtue and entered with her into the path of growth through the obstacle.

Additional resources

  • Reflections from the Christian Scriptures on Theology and work
  • The story of the Choice of Hercules has inspired a brief opera by Handel, which you can listen to here.
  • More How to be diligent at work with 10 tips to improve your career, skills and work-life balance.

You are working on phase #3 – Practice.  Here is the next activity > Week 21 – Being grateful

Share it on your social network:

Or you can just copy and share this url