Head like a kite in a thunderstorm by Will Ringland

“Make sure you’re not made ‘Emperor,’ avoid that imperial stain. It can happen to you, so keep yourself simple, good, pure, saintly, plain, a friend of justice, god- fearing, gracious, affectionate, and strong for your proper work.” - Marcus Aurelius

What do you do when you succeed at something? Does it get to your head of do put your head down and get back to work?

I recently presented about this Virtue Project at Nerd Nite Madison and it went really well. I typically have a low opinion and high expectation for public speaking and I feel like I absolutely nailed it despite spending the hours leading up to it feeling woefully, terribly, very obviously underprepared. But the stars aligned and I had the audience rapt - no one went to the bar to get a drink, it got quiet and intense, I got strong applause at the end.

Magic. Head high in the clouds like a kite in a thunderstorm.

I was feeling pretty powerful and awesome. So I started working on this piece, a piece to discuss how humility keeps us hungry.
 Hubris, conceit, pride are all the perverting of humility by great success that leads us down the path of self-destruction1.

That may a little dramatic2. The moment that we let success stand between us and understanding the world, we calcify. Hardened to the outside world, we lose our curiosity, we lose focus, we lose sight of what it is *to be a person*. Curiosity of our environment is what brought us out of the trees, out of the savannah, out of darkness, and into the modern world3.

Epictetus, one of the best known stoic philosophers, said it like this,
“It is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

The best remedy to pride is approaching the world with humility, with the understanding that you only know what you know, not everything. As I started writing the talk, I pulled out so many things. All the great things. I went back to the book that started all this for me - Walter Isaacson’s biography of Ben Franklin - I went back to the most *comprehensive* biography by Leo Lemay and even reread from the collected works of Franklin published online at FranklinPapers.org.

It was as if I was a neophyte. It reminded me that there are others who have studied longer and harder than I who knew more, will likely always know more. And it puts into perspective the way of understanding and knowledge. No person can ever, should ever, believe they are the sole bearer of knowledge and truth. There are always others to whom we can aspire.

So, I spoke well and I knew my topic. And I *got there* despite having been reading and researching and practicing Franklin and his virtue project for *years* by approaching it like I had no idea what I was doing and that I was going to fail.

Here’s an exercise for then next time you have a thing you’re working on you feel you know well. And,likely, is a good set of precepts for Humility if you have a knowledge focus in your own Virtues.

    Ask yourself these questions:
  1. What *don’t* I know about this topic?
  2. Who out there knows *more* than I do?
  3. How can be more like them and their expertise?

If you otherwise think naught but of your own expertise, all the things you do, know, and understand already, what could you possibly care about outside of that?

  1. (Ominous music).

  2. It is....

  3. Also, thumbs thumbs aren’t a virtue.

The Vast Expanse of No Progress — how to attain your goals. by Will Ringland

I’m going to do two things in this article.

  1. I’m going to get angry about ill-defined goals we set as a new year’s resolution.
  2. Then I’m going to tell you to do it anyway.

I never liked resolutions which is funny when you consider how much I talk about resolve around here. It is the baggage around resolutions. We make grand plans to change All The Things that we do not like about ourselves all at the same time and run head long into the great new year and you will be better and you will succeed and and and...

We deprive ourselves of things or exhaust ourselves in exercise or drop money into the swear jar or what ever. It results in so much mental anguish that we drop everything by January 10th. And what do we do? Double back on the thing we were trying to stop doing or fall further from the thing we wanted to keep doing.

So here’s the first thing: New Year’s Resolutions suck because we don’t know how to achieve them Obvious example: I will lose weight this year. Great. How much weight? When will you get there? What are you going to do?


Exactly! Now, do you even know what success is for a goal like that? Is 1 pound weight loss success? Technically, yes. Would you count it as a success? Hardly.

It isn’t the goals that are the problem

It also isn’t you. You can’t get anywhere you don’t know you’re going. It’s the lack of either specificity or a system to get you to that goal. If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will do. That’s true. But no path will actually get you there.

Here’s the second thing: I don’t have a problem with large, lofty goals. In fact, I think we should all have goals that will take time, even a lifetime, to achieve. What matters is what we do to approach these goals, even a little bit, every single day.

Here’s Franklin’s original process for building Virtue:

I made a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul'd each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross'd these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.

In my own Virtues, each precept is a short, specific note of acting that embodies the Virtue. Executing on these actions means my behavior is aligned with the Virtue I wish to build.

What the hell does this have to do with New Year’s resolutions?

Let’s take our favorite example of a resolution - Lose Weight. Let us assume we’re using the Virtues as Franklin originally chose, as I am, and see how they can be tailored in a year to get us to “Lose Weight.”

For many of us, weight loss is the essence of Moderation and Temperance. Consume less with a more sober demeanor and we’ll lose weight. How do we get from Virtue to New Year’s resolution?


The first step to bridging The Vast Expanse of No Progress is something we have all already been doing - choosing Virtues that reflect our end goals. Here are my Virtues which generally serve the goal of losing and keeping my weight down.


Franklin, my man, again:

I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr'd to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express'd the extent I gave to its meaning.

And with each one, we define precepts, rules, that reflect the meaning of our Virtues. So, if Temperance for me is reducing my alcohol consumption to just weekends and/or well before bed (because, man does whisky wreck my sleep) I would choose precepts that reflect those. It becomes our intent, then, to follow these rules which bring us closer to our Virtuous ideal.


But! This still does not address The Vast Expanse. It is excellent to have rules to live by and it is great to want to build these Virtues. We still need to pay attention to our successes and understand our failures. That is why we review every day and every week.


Each daily review is designed to provide perspective on what actions we took that did that did or did not drive us towards our chosen Virtue. Spoke out of anger at a colleague? Mark “Tranquility” for the day. Had an extra drink after dinner? Mark “Temperance” for the day. And on and on and, each day, we build an understanding of our patterns.

From Vast Nothing to Daily Progress

This is the scaffolding that our Virtues provide. They are a system of success, something that can be applied to any of the goals we have, no matter how lofty. At the start I said I was going to say resolutions are terrible but you should make them anyway. And I did. But what I really mean, what the actual problem with resolutions is tat we don’t break them down to concrete, actionable things we can do every day.

Once we have something to actually do then we can, you know, do the thing. Do all the things.

Enter 2018 with... appropriate... humility by Will Ringland

Politics aside (like really, really, far aside) events in the world for 2017 were objectively terrible. More terrorism, more disease, more economic disparity and inequality. The world could certainly be better in numerous ways.

And I, hardly, am perfect and certainly could have been better about many things. Just look at some of my low lights from the last 52 weeks of virtue grids

With all that failure, it’s useful to remind myself that I did accomplish some things too. It’s easy to focus on failure, especially those of us raised in the “always be better, anticipate everything” mentality of Midwestern upbringing. We could be looking at a list of 10 things, 8 of which we accomplished, and just stare at those two unfinished things and scream...


...at ourselves until the first dawn of 2019.

Eww can all agree that looking only on the good things we did, the accomplishments, is vanity. Rarely are we perfect but it is equally vain to ignore all our triumphs for any or all of our failures.

Consider that hubris is pride in one’s actions to the exclusion of all other things. Let me bust out a little Aristotle. Aristotle defined “hubris” as:

”... to cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to you, nor because anything has happened to you, but merely for your own gratification. Hubris is not the requital of past injuries; this is revenge.”

We can dwell in failure, really dig in and slop in the mud, the same way we can for success. This can create the same sort of self-satisfaction, though not positive in affect, as external hubris used as a violent act on another.

Let’s not do that to ourselves?

Let’s remember that we are human and that we we will mess up in our drive to be better and that’s ok. Let’s enter 2018 with a self-aware humility that recognizes the best and the worst of 2017 without bogging ourselves down on one part of it.

So, buck up. Make some goals and raise a drink to all the good we did in 2017.

When Chastity isn’t really A Thing any more, that control has to go somewhere by Will Ringland

Purity Culture is Perfection Expectation

I’ve been reading about Purity culture in religion lately as an attempt to describe a phenomenon I see in myself I’ve been calling “perfection expectation”. I’ll describe Purity Culture and how I think it relate.

Purity Culture

In a but shell, purity culture is the belief that people, women especially, must be morally and sexually pure to be worth anything to society. It’s an old puritanical (and misogynistic) ideal stemming from women as chattel used as leverage for a family to gain status, property, wealth, or all three. If a woman was not pure, it was harder to marry her off.

It takes a different form today, sorta... Women aren’t directly traded for property in marriage in America. Mostly..

Look, it’s hard to speak in absolutes because bullshit practices like this do still happen in even “modern” countries like America.


Here is a quote from a recent book written on Modesty that captures the expectations for purity in women today.

A lot of girls get mad when guys treat them too sexually. When guys call them names, or make rude advances, or say nasty stuff to them, they get all in a huff. “How could he talk to me like that? What does he think I am, a piece of meat?” And the answer is yes. That’s exactly what he thinks you are because that’s how you’ve marketed yourself. The sign in front of your establishment screams “sex.” The banner on your ad yells “use me.” Guys’ eyes become clouded by the flesh, and they lose all sight of the girl inside that flesh. So if you show off parts of you that turn guys on, don’t blame them for your PR campaign. You designed it and created the image you wanted to sell to the world, and they’re just hoping to get a chance to purchase or steal a piece of you. Sexy Girls: How Hot is too Hot by Hayley Dimarco

Not only are women expected to control their own sexuality but they are also expected to control that of those around them, namely men, without turning people completely off.

Standards - double and otherwise

The double standard created is that women can’t be overtly sexual but should still be comfortable, but not too comfortable, and they should defer to outside judgment, but not too much, because you have to be liked, but not too much because you don’t want to look slutty....

The expression of this culture is not limited to controlling women’s sexuality, though the results of this are especially insidious. Purity culture affects much of the expectations people hold for us, not just about sexuality.

Perfection expectation

The underlying expectation of Purity Culture as it has translated into a modern world where sexual expression is FAR less controlled, in comparison to the Puritanical era, is that we are required to be perfect forever and always. At no time can we ever do something wrong and if we do, that’d it. We are sullied and are completely irretrievable. You’ll amount to nothing if you can’t do A Thing like a pro from the start.

This is especially visible in politics when a person screws up. Note that I am not going to continue talking about sexual misconduct because that’s very different and much more serious.

Consider the 2004 presidential campaign. Kerry’s 2004 campaign was brutal. Do you remember the prominent of the term “flip-flop” from the campaign? Kerry’s inconsistent stance on the Iraq war absolutely destroyed him.

"I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it."

While what he meant has merit - initial versions of the bill paid for the war in one method with which he agreed, and later versions after the reconciliation process paid for it in ways with which her disagreed - the fact that an apparent change in view can destroy his career because the US expects a person to be perfectly consistent is ludicrous.

Last I checked, I was only human

Unequivocally: it is ridiculous to think that a person cannot or should not change. We cannot expect a person to exist, full formed, from the day they become an adult, which is itself an arbitrary concept. People is people and it is ok to change opinions or ideas. The thought that change is some sort of weakness in character is toxic to human advancement. The premise of our Virtue Projects is that we can get better with a systematic approach to growth.

A dedicated, intentional approach allows us to clearly and directly engage in in self-development is the first step in a long journey to change expectations and views on morality in America.

Be deliberate in your change

Perhaps, in the end, that’s what really torpedoed Kerry’s campaign in 2004. It’s less that he changed his opinions but that he didn’t acknowledge what happened to change his position on this thing. The excruciatingly messed up political dialog in America aside, trying to hide or minimize out growth is disingenuous at best. Our initials reaction to be questioned on change is defensiveness.

“I didn’t change. I’ve always believed this. I am perfect and you are awful for thinking I’m not.”

Building systems to guide our change, to grow into the people we want to be, makes addressing these questions all the more easy. “I changed because I reflected on it and decided Temperance (or resolve or order or justice) is more important than [blank]. Fill in what you will but it’s hard to argue with a person that takes a stance on as thing different from before if they can succinctly point to the method of their change.

The Virtue project gives us power over not only ourselves but the way culture interacts with us. We have more power if we understand ourselves, how we got here, and out place in the world.