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Does Anybody Really Care About Virtue

Updated on May 12, 2009

Virtue is a Timeless Gift

An old sampler found in a museum in Newfoundland which was stitched in 1813 reads, “Virtue is the chiefest beauty of the mind, the noblest ornament of humankind.  Virtue is our safeguard and our guiding star that stirs up reason when our senses err.” 


Virtue Sampler

“Virtue does not come from wealth, but. . . wealth, and every other good thing which men have. . . comes from virtue.”  Socrates
“Virtue does not come from wealth, but. . . wealth, and every other good thing which men have. . . comes from virtue.” Socrates

“Virtue is not knowing but doing” Japanese Proverb

Virtue is more than being chaste; it is a pattern of thought and behavior that is based on high moral standards. It is a combination of the heart and the mind as thousands of decisions and actions are made in a lifetime of choices. Virtue is the moral compass that directs an individual when no one is there to see. Virtue is a state of living.

The word virtue is a form of the Latin root word virtus, which means strength. I believe that virtue is the inner strength that can be seen through the quiet dignity of the possessor. Virtue is the ability one has to actually "stand for something."

“The power of a man's virtue should not be measured by his special efforts, but by his ordinary doing” Blaise Pascal

“Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it we have always to combat with ourselves.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

When one thinks of virtues an association may be made relating them to the opposing forces of the “Seven Deadly Sins” from Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy. These seven vices are contrasted with seven heavenly virtues.

  • Lust – Chastity
  • Gluttony- Temperance
  • Greed- Charity
  • Sloth- Diligence
  • Wrath- Patience
  • Envy- Kindness
  • Pride- Humility

Virtue works from William J. Bennett

The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories
The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories
The author draws upon a variety of literature ranging from biblical stories to political legends and speeches to illustrate the catalog of virtues--self-discipline, compassion, work, responsibility, friendship, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, faith--that he believes are foundational to strong moral character.

Virtue A Need For Society

Back in 1990’s you may remember there was an author that burst on the scene named William J. Bennett who called out to society with this accusation:

“Virtues are not taken seriously as they used to be, either by teachers or by parents or by people making public policy and, therefore, by children. But it used to be understood by people who ran universities and who ran schools that the major purpose of education was moral improvement.”

To combat the state he perceived our society to be in at the time he compiled many selections from great literature into an anthology designed to help both children and adults understand the meaning of virtue and develop stronger character.

Virtue Book Sales Hit the Roof

He titled his first book simply, The Book of Virtues. His description of the work was as follows:

“One of the risks of giving this thing a title The Book of Virtues is that people think, ‘Oh, this is going to be sort of namby-pamby stuff.’” But, he argues, “This is hard stuff. This is real stuff. There is a lot in here about being born and dying and suffering and sacrificing. This was the stuff in which kids were raised. It’s not the feel-good stuff of today. There are no lessons in here to have self-esteem, just to feel good about yourself because you’re a nice person. The lessons in here are you should have regard for yourself because you’re made in the image of God and you should have regard for yourself if you’ve earned it, if you’ve done something right. They were not less realistic in the old days; they were more realistic.”

The book was an instant success, and he produced more to follow. The need for a return to virtue was recognized and the public opinion expressed in the form of book sales was phenomenal.

Is it time once again to "return to virtue"?

Over the years William J. Bennett did not prove to be able to uphold the virtues he so eloquently believed in. He succumbed to vices that tarnished his reputation and credibility. Such is the plight of the natural man, imperfect and in need of change constantly. But the literature he compiled fulfilled a need for society as a whole. That was almost twenty years ago. Is it time we take a look at the past and once again “return to virtue” one more time?

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis

In a frightfully astute prophecy President Theodore Roosevelt stated, “Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood—the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”

His insightful warning could be a description of our society today and the problems we face in society as a whole.

Is the remedy for what ails society today simply a return to virtue once again?

Virtue- "Yes We Can"

Many voices can be heard shouting the need for change. Change is the only constant thing in this world today. Perhaps an effort toward virtuous living is the strength our society needs. This starts with the individual first. The only real thing a person can change is them self!

“Search others for their virtues, thy self for thy vices” Benjamin Franklin

  • “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”- Buddha

  • “Virtue is more clearly shown in the performance of fine actions than in the nonperformance of base ones.”- Aristotle 


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