You gotta choose - part 2 / by Will Ringland

I'm sure that you have agonizing over the Giant List of Virtues. It is, in fact, Giant and a List but it doesn't need to be daunting. As noted before, there are canned options you can select to avoid the brain power expense. And having a point off which to build can get you going faster.

This is part 2 of a multi part series. See part 1 here.


The Easy Path

In a number of ways the faster path is the virtuous one. Having choices made before you start means more time to think about maintaining your virtues. And a faster start means faster to virtue and faster to failure.

Hold up? Failure is good?


Heck yeah, failure is great. Failure means you tried something and it didn't work. And if you eliminate one way to fail, that makes it more likely you'll find the successful thing. No successful anything was successful on the first try. And anyone saying that they never failed is selling you snake oil.

So using pre-fab Virtue Lists means a faster chance to run headlong into a wall.

Sounds great....

Yes! Walls are great! Knowing what won't work gets you closer to what will but this is not to say a Virtue Project should be easy.

If you find yourself having little trouble achieving your virtues, maybe you need to take a long hard look at them? Are you really trying?

Difficult Virtues

There's a difference between challenging yourself and changing who you are. The former is what we are aiming for here - growth, improvement, effort. What we are not aiming for is a total overhaul of who you are as a person, at least not in total straight out of the gate.

Say that the virtue you're seeking is Gregariousness - the quality of being social, out going, talkative in groups - and you're an introvert. You've always been the quiet one at parties, it is mentally or emotionally exhausting to interact with strangers, maybe attempting to become gregarious is not the best option? Or limit the degree to which you are gregarious?

This is a good example for me, though this was not on my list. It was a sort of challenge goal related to it.

A Long Time Ago in a Career Far, Far Away

About a year in to my job, I was promoted to managment over a small team (just me and another guy, eventuallly a third person a year later). I am absolutely an introvert. I'll take couches, cats, and a book most nights over parties. But I do very much enjoy the company of people I hold dear. Even if we aren't interacting consistently, just being in each other's presence, is very satisfying and comforting - my friend C calls it "people-non-people" time.

I did not have the social skills to lead another person let alone direct the developers on the team where to head with their projects. I had to, very quickly, learn how to embrace conversation of many types. Small talk, motivational talk, arguments, descriptive or informative or critical talk. And I had to learn fast. Plus, as a manager I had to talk in front of dozens, hundreds, and (eventually) thousands of people.

Statisticians laugh when they see the number two fear is death and the number one fear is public speaking. Given the option between death and speaking to a room of 3000 people and I may have thought longer than is healthy about that....

So, two things I did to build gregariousness in myself: I read like crazy, one month reading eight books on public speaking and management, and I practiced. I practiced with my girlfriend, I practiced with my boss, I practiced with my cats. And my cats, by the way, don't respond well to critical feedback. I literally, at one point, set a goal to say Yes to every single opportunity to speak in front of other people.

Dial it in

If I had attempted to make Gregariousness a virtue and immediately jumped into any speaking assignment, it would have fallen apart. It takes time to work up to certain expressions of a virtue. In these cases, cases where sticking to the virtue is so hard that you're constantly falling off the wagon, step back and decide if it is the right thing or if you're doing too much.

Gregariousness with a precept of "speak in front of the whole company evety time asked" may be easier said than done. Whereas gregariousness with the precept "accept and attend more party invitations" may be just right. You can, potentially, work your way up to the top of that speaker list.

  1. Variety keeps things fresh

    Similar to #2 above, taking Franklin's thirteen virtues offers enough variety that you're doing enough, different things in a given cycle to keep you engaged. But it isn't too much that you forget your focus or what is coming next.

  2. It worked for Ben Franklin and he was a badass

    I mean really. He founded newspapers, created the post office, built the first library, negotiated the Fench alliance that would the revolutionary war.... The man was diligent and well respected and some part of that came from early attempts at virtue. It is hard to say anything you may choose to adopt from his life would steer you wrong.

Choose your own adventure

Other prebaked options include the cardinal virtues defined in antiquity by Plato, the expanded or adapted virtues writen by Cicero, or the three paired down theliological virtues. You'll see overlasp here with Frasnklin's virtues as noted before becauser he chose from the above for his own virtue project.

Or, I suppose, you could roll a few dice and see what comes up?

Cardinal Virtues

Prudence This is similar to Wisdom as a virtue. Prudence is choosing the rightmost, correct, beneficient thing to do in the current situation.

Justice Fairness, equality or equity in thought and deed.

Temperance Restraint. Classically, this is less about alcohol and more about all indulgence or action - physical, mental, emotional, sexual, or spiritual. Franklin broke his temperance into two: specific physical Temperance with alcohol, and mental Temperance with choice and judgment.

Courage Strength or fortitude, confronting fear and persevering despite it.

Theleological virtue

Faith Belief in a higher power, that there are things outside yourself that created and nurture the universe. Obedience to them.

Love Caring for others as you do yourself. Charity. Assuming for the best in those around you.

Hope Refraining from despair, maintaining a positive attitide and spreading that into the world around you.

Extended theleological virtues

This includes the above three and adds: Humility Being humble, not bragging or having pride about yourself or your works.

Hospitality Accepting others as they are and in the state they are. Helping people.

Mercy Compassion. Caring for others, not just family and friends.

Fidelity Faithfulness to yourself and your family. Holding others before you. Dedication.

Forgiveness Holding no grudges. Forgiving others transgressions, intentional or otherwise, against us or others. Avoiding retribution or revenge.

Vigilance Attentiveness to self, our actions. Holding awareness of the repercussions of our choices. Staying true to goals and purity of intent.

Reliability Keeping promises. Being a resource of others in anything. Steadfastness.

Admittedly 13 virtues is an awful large number to consider day in and day out. It may behoove you to choose a smaller set.

The goal for choosing virtue is not to take as many as you think you can possibly do; rather, pick the ones you believe you will do. Choose a virtue that you area already sort of OK at and become extraordinary at it. Then, as you get better, you can expand the set of virtues you follow.

By the same token, if trying to follow as many as you have chosen ends in self-loathing or regular failure, stop following so many. It is absolutely OK to pare back, reassess, and begin anew.

In a future article, we'll talk rules. Everyone likes rules, no?

That's it for now. Lots to consider, so off with you. Next we'll talk about precepts.

Mm.. everyone likes rules.