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WEEK 22: Being passionate

See this personal virtue in your life 

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This week, as you continue your habituation plan, you will focus on the vice of acedia and the countering virtue of passion.

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The vice of acedia in times of boredom

This week, you will invest in your character by enhancing your virtue literacy around the virtue of passion.  But rather than start with the virtue, this week you will start with the vice to which this virtue remedies:  the vice of acedia.

Acedia is the fourth of the seven capital vices, considered as those which generate all that is against virtue and each one an instance of love gone wrong. Among the seven, acedia stands on its own. The first three capital vices of pride, envy and wrath are instances of love that has gone wrong towards God and neighbour. The last three of greed, gluttony are instead instances of love gone wrong towards things.  But acedia is the lack of love towards anything and anybody.  It is worse than love gone wrong, it is love that has gone out.  The term acedia, in fact, literally means ‘no care’.  It is the state of our soul when we no longer care for anything or anyone.

The vice of acedia is the least know, the hardest to define, the most controversial and the hardest to face.  It can be described as the lack of passion, and is sometimes translated sloth, inertia and apathy.  It is a condition where the soul is deflated and where we are generally not interested in anything.  It is what the French poet Baudelaire called ‘ennui’ (suggesting it as the worst of all vices) and what Billie Eilish sings about ‘…bored… I’m so bored…’

In many ways acedia is one the most prevailing vices in today’s society becuse it typically flourishes in the following conditions:

  • you are focused on yourself and self-realisation is the most important value
  • you have too much
  • you live in protection and think you deserve entertainment
  • you don’t have to work hard or wait to have what you want
  • you’ve never had to undergo discipline or real hardship
  • your main obsession is to flee from boredom
  • you fall into the law of diminishing returns, whereby the more you find entertainment the more you are bored
  • as you enjoy almost immediate fulfilment of most of your desires you experiment an immediate corresponding fading of interest

In many ways, is this not the mirror of our generation?

Is acedia in your character?

Read the following.  To what extent does it describe you?

“Everything is heavy. I want to get away and let sleep take over, rule out everything. My world drifts by slowly, without remarkable emotions. I feel I have lost all sense, and have no vitality to offer, no enthusiasm to share and no energy to invest in any dream. I feel I am bored spectator of the world. It seems to me that everything it is nothing but a rerun of the same show, the same actors, the same scripts… why should I bother. I live as reflex, and people to me are cogs in the machinery.  My life is run over by a placid and devastating sense of sameness”.

A word of caution here. Acedia is a controversial vice because its symptoms of laziness, lethargy, indolence, melancholy and sadness can be similar to those caused by psychological conditions such as depression. The two should not be confused, and although it is true that character education can help psychological states, we should not undermine their complex roots and welcome professional help when needed.

Cultivating the virtue of passion

If your character has been sapped by the vice of acedia, you need to work on its countering virtue which is passion.

What is the virtue of passion? It is fundamentally the reverse of all that we have described above as acedia.  It is strong love for people and a healthy love for things.  It includes the virtue of diligence, as a zealous attention to your actions and work. Its synonyms are zeal, pugnacity, attentiveness, work and orderliness and ambition as a positive virtue that finds legitimate pride in achievement and motivation in desiring excellence in all things.

It is, in short, a will to live and love accompanied by emotions of hope and constructive actions.

Incidentally, as passion counters acedia, it also is leads us out of boredom and into a life of flourishing.

A metaphor for passion

This week we will look at a metaphor for the virtue of passion which can have a very powerful force in virtue literacy as they give mental images of virtue to your mind.

It is to the philosopher Plato that we owe the following three-fold image of the human soul:

  1. the Man, as the intellectual part of the soul that is driven by the desire of knowledge.
  2. the Lion, that represents the emotive or spirited part that feels anger, shame, courage and excitement and is driven by the desire of honour;  it is the Lion which best represents what we have here called passion.
  3. the Monster, which instead signifies desire and is driven by cravings and pleasure.

It today’s society, the Man is being lost, as the desire for knowledge is replaced by the search for competence and the slow pleasure of cultivating knowledge is delegated to artificial intelligence.

Likewise, the Lion flounders in an environment that lacks motivating projects and grand visions and in which there is no utopia, no higher culture, no ideal state, no model citizenship, no grand aspirations and no universal values.   Under these conditions, the lion either falls asleep or wanders aimlessly with passing flirts of spirit.  Continual exposure to immediate gratification, without courtship, waiting, or building up to a climax saps enthusiasm, motivation and curiosity. It ends passion.

And so the monster might well be the prevailing force today, where the search for experiences, individual expression and personal pleasure is a main guiding expressions. Having silenced the rational man and narcotised the spirited lion, the profit-seeking monster in the soul takes over in shaping contemporary identities and leaves room to acedia.

One small act of passion

As with every virtue, try to practice on small act related to the virtue of passion this week.

Additional resources

You are working on phase #3 – Practice.  Here is the next activity > Week 23 – Being faithful, hopeful and loving

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