Editor’s note: The original version of this column was published May 13, 2007.
Ever noticed how life has a way of spinning around like a boomerang to nip us in the rear? It’s particularly true when we choose to violate what we know to be right and honorable.
I say choose because that’s what we do. It’s not that we don’t know better when we decide to disregard higher virtues in humanity, it’s just that too often today we choose to believe we can avoid them and emerge unscathed.
Unfortunately, this anything-goes approach is fast becoming the new way of life in our faltering Western civilization where money and our addiction to it controls all we say and do.
In childhood I constantly heard the word “character.” The depth of a person’s character was significant because that quality defined who you were—and what the essence of you represented over your lifetime.
So where does society stand today in following what we humans regard as our eight most sacred virtues? What I see is far removed from what once was.
For instance, is anyone you know teaching virtues to the next generation? I’m seeing lots of youthful heads buried in video games, Facebook, smartphones, Twitter and sexually explicit TV shows and films.
Of the eight virtues, restraint is considered the keystone. Look around, my friends. Anyone see much restraint happening in today’s America, even by the government we’ve elected to set our direction? Fuel-guzzling vehicles, spending far beyond our means, ridiculous levels of wasteful commercial packaging, unrestrained marketing of sex, food and excess, exploding waistlines, crumbling boundaries on every front.
Instead, it appears we’re headed full speed in just the opposite direction of anything cited on humanity’s list of virtues.
Next on that traditional list comes chastity. Have you see those next-to-nothing little-girl clothes at the stores lately? How about the commercials that strongly imply sexual activity has no consequences? Those who advocate for moral wholesomeness are ridiculed and summarily dismissed by judgmental minds as puritanical Bible-thumpers. Meanwhile, incidences of STDs skyrocket while crippling opioid addiction and anti-depressants are as common as aspirin.
The virtue of abstinence has become a joke. We know how well the media and society at large promote that particular quality. But abstinence also includes self-control over our eating, drinking and other indulgences. Does anyone abstain from anything anymore since we’ve collectively agreed to free that genie for the economy’s sake?
Liberality equates to a generous nature and an opposition to greed. That virtue also relates to the sheer nobility of our thoughts and deeds. See many acts of nobility happening around you? Can you or I make any difference?
It’s a given that exercising diligence often pays positive dividends in our personal and professional lives. That virtue is achieved by refusing to quit when the going gets tough. Diligence can be achieved by working intelligently, with enthusiasm, and intentionally avoiding the natural tendency to pull to the side toward atrophy.
Patience is the next virtue. Have we ever kicked this one to the curb in the past four decades or so. Now we want everything from our sugar and fat to our gasoline and every possible gratifying experience in the moment. I remember my grandmother saying anything worth having is worth waiting for. She also talked about appreciating what we must wait and work toward. Patience also would include the ability to forgive others and show mercy.
The virtue of kindness equates to compassion, friendship and the capacity to empathize with others’ joys and pains. It’s also linked with the Golden Rule: Doing to others what we would have them do to ourselves. I do notice flashes of this particular virtue in some people, usually among offspring of the so-called Greatest Generation. This quality correlates with a person’s ability to relate closely with others while genuinely enjoying their companionship.
Humility is a virtue that celebrates authentic modesty and the ability to become more selfless and less egomanical. It’s been my experience that humility is especially difficult to achieve for a self-absorbed teenager or a career-driven young adult bent on fame and the six-figure income.
Recent polls show these are the aspirations of most young Americans. I was as bad as anyone at being anything but humble as I sprinted through that phase of my existence. Yet in the process, I also learned the meaning behind the adage, “You only get to keep what you give away.” And I realized that to anyone else in this world I was not the most important person. They were.
So what do you believe? How do you think we’re doing at paying even meager lip service to being a virtuous nation any longer? These qualities that both challenge and strengthen the human spirit just don’t sound all that fun or easy, do they? It certainly is much simpler to roll one’s eyes and whine, “WHATever!”
And what can be done about it now that restraint (and the other seven virtues) has largely been replaced by a passion for morbid excess and all-out pursuits of lucre that far outweigh virtue?
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@ arkansasonline.com .