On Virtue



The Key To Virtue






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(2.1) The Key To Virtue

“When one ceases from conflict, whether
because he has won, because he has lost, or because he cares no more for the
game, the virtue passes out of him." -- Charles Horton Cooley

There are three concepts here that represent an unusual
juxtaposition: “conflict,” “the game,” and “virtue.” Robert Lynd said, “No
doubt there are other important things in life besides conflict, but there are
not many other things so inevitably interesting. The very saints interest us
most when we think of them as engaged in a conflict with the Devil."
Conflict can certainly be interesting either as a participant or as an
observer; but “the game” and its relationship to “virtue” may be even more
interesting.

The game must first offer real and present, win/lose
possibilities. If it doesn't, the virtue passes out of you. More to the point,
an immediate possibility of losing is the key to virtue. Here, “virtue” is
doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong.

The virtuous person pursues winning while doing only what is
right. “Conflict” is, then, not the tension between winning and losing. Rather,
it's the responsibility of “right” vs. the risk of “wrong.” The truly fatal
risk is not losing. It's succumbing to the temptation to sacrifice one's virtue
on the altar of success.

It's tempting to put forth a few moral pronouncements about
right and wrong; but it's your call. The take home point is simply that, if you
are a virtuous person, you know what's right and understand what's wrong. “The
game,” for you, is doing what's right and avoiding what's wrong, while playing
to win, every time. To do otherwise is to let the virtue pass out of you.



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Here's Just a Random Musing

"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." -- Carl Sagan

Now there is a humbling thought. It does tend to put a damper on one's ego quotient, doesn't it? Invention and creation are far less original than they are typically represented as being. Alexander Graham Bell certainly understood this, "Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself." Henry Ford got it too, "I invented nothing new. I simply combined the inventions of others into a car."

Ralph Waldo Emerson explained how invention and creation actually work, "Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor." The essence of the principle was captured by Auguste Rodin, "I invent nothing. I rediscover;" and what may rank as the first corollary was suggested by Jonathan Swift, "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought." The converse of Swift's corollary was offered by the famous Anon., "Don't expect anything original from an echo."

The take home point is that inventions, creations, and discoveries aren't themselves unique or original. They are merely the objects or outcomes. Creation is in thinking what nobody else has thought.

Robertson Davies said, "Although there may be nothing new under the sun, what is old is new to us and so rich and astonishing that we never tire of it. If we do tire of it, if we lose our curiosity, we have lost something of infinite value, because to a high degree it is curiosity that gives meaning and savor to life." Curiosity ignites imagination; and imagination in turn fuels the fire of creation. What then is this fire, this imagination? Peter Nivio Zarlenga's words hold the answer, "I am imagination. I can see what the eyes cannot see. I can hear what the ears cannot hear. I can feel what the heart cannot feel." Dr. Seuss' advice is a fitting, concluding message for all who create, from universes to apple pies. "Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!"