Practical Virtue

Along with understanding who we are and what we need to stay healthy, our minds naturally are drawn to understand how to make progress towards being our best self. Our success in this life will not be judged eternally by our materialistic gains. Our success will be judged primarily on how much we loved but also on how we progressed in virtue through our life. Virtue or being virtuous means that we turn our body, mind, and soul towards goodness. Virtue is about how we treat ourselves and behave towards others. Being good in recent times has been devalued as a weakness but in truth being good will ultimately bring us health and joy beyond all other means. Goodness and virtue are the means by which we transcend our basic survival programming of fear, competition, and greed.

Pursuit and practice of virtue brings us happiness and well-being. The easiest entry into understanding virtue comes to us from Plato who defined the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance as the basis for “natural morality”. Do not be afraid of these words, we will unpack everything together. I like to call these virtues the “practical virtues” because they are completely under our control to practice in our life. You likely already practice most of them without realising that you are practising virtue.

Prudence, or wisdom, is the first cardinal virtue and means that we use our intellect to judge what is right and wrong in every situation. It means we apply our knowledge and understanding in order to achieve the best outcome. We have an obligation to seek counsel and increase our knowledge from trusted and respected sources when we need to make decisions outside our experience or understanding. Part of practising wisdom is having an openness to the idea that we may be wrong or need help to solve a complex or difficult problem. Prudence means we make good, informed decisions for the best outcomes that contribute to our overall happiness and well-being. We choose silence to ensure we make prudent decisions by creating a quiet mind and space in which to think clearly.

Justice is the second cardinal, or practical, virtue. Practising justice means treating everyone fairly whether we like the person or not. A person’s behaviour can make us less inclined to grant them equality with those we like or those who have behaved better. But how we treat others reflects our own virtue and not the virtue of the other person. We are fair for our own sake rather than theirs. To be virtuous, we treat others fairly despite their shortcomings or failures. It may be that repeated failures that negatively affect us mean that we might decide to disassociate ourselves from that person but we maintain our virtue by not behaving in a vengeful manner when we are wronged. Revenge requires us to behave in an un-virtuous way and plunges us into an unhealthy, negative mind set. We think revenge feels good but it diminishes our humanity. We should also be aware of justice especially for those who are vulnerable and be prepared to support them by standing by them in defence of their fair treatment by others. Choose silence to give yourself space to maintain a calm, peaceful mind in the face of injustice so that your actions in response maintain your virtue.

Fortitude, or courage, is the third cardinal, or practical, virtue. Courage is not about being the hero or seeking out danger. Fortitude is using your strength to move yourself forward or take action even when faced with challenges and obstacles. Our fortitude is informed by prudence and justice. Prudence and justice provide the “what” and the “why” whereas fortitude is the “how”. Fortitude contains an implicit nod to perseverance and steadfastness. Fortitude is not reckless and proceeds deliberately from considered, reasonable thought. We should always use our fortitude for our own good or the good of others. Courage allows us to face our fears and be confident that we can make progress or make a difference despite any weakness. Courage also helps us to deal with setbacks and not be discouraged when things get difficult. Fortitude is courage to act and to continue to try despite fear and difficulty. Once you understand what you need to do and why, choose silence to clear your mind and settle your nerves then courageously do what needs to be done for the good of yourself and others.

Temperance, or self-control, is the fourth cardinal, or practical, virtue. Temperance is moderation of our physical and spiritual desires. Practising temperance, or self-control, of our natural physical desire for food, drink, or sex protects us from unhealthy excess. These physical desires are legitimate and not inherently bad because we need them for our survival. They become unhealthy for us in the form of gluttony, drunkenness, and lust. Practising temperance of our natural spiritual, or psychological, desire for recognition and validation protects us from pride. We all want to be liked, loved, appreciated, acknowledged, recognised but taking this desire too far blinds us to recognising the good in others and creates an unhealthy self-focus. Modesty and humility protect us from narcissism, egotism, and conceit. We should embrace self-love which is a legitimate desire for our health but in moderation to protect us from unhealthy (and annoying to others) excess. Too much of a good thing is bad for our physical and psychological health. Choose silence then look honestly at yourself and ensure that your desires are in order and find ways to moderate those that might create disorder in your body and mind. Look for balance and order in all things to stay healthy.

Practising virtue allows us to better ourselves through the things that happen naturally as a result of us just living our lives. The principles of how we should think and act give us a guideline and good moral basis for our behaviour. Choosing silence as part of this process gives us the best chance of using our mind to its best advantage in achieving our aim to tend towards goodness and being virtuous.

This text first appeared as a series of posts on the choose silence Instagram feed. Daily posts available on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.