On Virtue

The Key To Virtue


(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

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.


Here's Just a Random Musing

"When all men think alike, no one thinks very much." -- Walter Lippmann

Lippmann also said, "It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf." Combining these truths leads to an interesting perspective on how one might go about increasing one's wisdom. First, associate with people who don't think alike, who don't think like you. Seek out divergent thinkers.

If your quest for thinkers is successful, you will notice that there is a lot of thinking going on around you. The static in your world begins to transform into wisdom's music; but be careful. It's easy to be seduced by the symphony. Wisdom's music may not necessarily achieve the volume and fullness of the orchestra, the harmony and richness of the choir. As is true for the music of divergent cultures and societies, wisdom's music may not at first be recognizable by you as music at all. In fact, the more profound the wisdom, the less like music it tends to sound.

Next, don't confuse the music with the musician. Just remember Churchill's admonition that even a fool is right sometimes. That is why it's always wise to consider the advice before discounting the advisor, read the message before turning away the messenger, listen carefully to the music before dismissing the musician. Wisdom frequently doesn't come wrapped in a package clearly labeled, "WISDOM: Handle with care!" Conversely, the wisest among us are sometimes wrong and not everything that sounds like wisdom is wise.

An additional nugget is embedded in Lippmann's council. There is plenty of wisdom to be experienced by limiting your preferences to certain types of music or musicians. Perhaps you only listen carefully at school or church. Maybe you primarily listen to people who look and sound like you. Possibly you are seeking wisdom mostly in books or from your elders. Maybe you restrict your listening to classical composers and shun bluegrass and rock-and-roll. However you limit your listening experience, the likelihood is that you will never notice what you are missing. You don't normally feel deprived of the wisdom you didn't hear. You are merely less wise than you might otherwise be.