Every year I write an annual review for myself. I spend about a week reflecting on the year that has gone by, and seeing what I learnt and did, and what will be useful (or not) for the following year.
One idea that has repeatedly stood out in the past few years has been virtues. I made a decision many years ago to try to live as many virtues as possible on a daily basis, and I have never regretted it.
The idea came from reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, which still ranks as the best book I have ever read.
For those unfamiliar with it, it is the personal journal of a Roman emperor detailing his life and reflections, as he goes to war for years at a time, struggles with political turmoil, witnesses the deaths of his children and goes on to rule an empire. The one thing out of all this tragedy and hardship that he (and the related philosophy of Stoicism) encapsulates is the idea of striving to live a virtuous life.
What Is A Virtue And How Can You Be Virtuous?
This begs the question:
What exactly is a virtue?
And what does it mean to be virtuous?
In simple terms, I believe that living a virtuous life means being good. Now before you scream “moralistic judgement”, let me unpack that a bit.
A virtue is a behaviour, quality or demonstration of “high moral standards”.
My interpretation of this is doing the right thing, or alternatively, doing the good thing.
And by good/right, I mean doing good by yourself and by whatever is important to you.
For some people this would extend to doing good by your family, and perhaps by your community, or the whole of humanity. But for others it may not mean that.
Why Superheroes Are Virtuous
Superhero movies are currently big in popular culture. And what makes superheroes amazing aren’t their superpowers – it is their displays of virtue.
Their ability to make decisions that remind us, that even with great strength, ability or otherwise… they are still human, with the capacity to do both good and evil, and to be a superhero, one chooses to do good.
That Sounds Like Moralistic B.S.
There is no moralistic judgement in living virtuously because it does not have to be for the greater good.
It can simply be for the good of you.
How To Live Virtuously
Living virtuously is a reminder that we often know the things to do that are good for us – we just don’t do them in our daily lives.
And the first step to doing the things that are good for us… is to know what virtues we value and want to follow, and then to make the effort to live them daily.
Why Aren’t More People Virtuous?
Another question that naturally leads on from that is: well Aaron, if this is all good for me… then why aren’t more people virtuous?
Simple: it’s hard to be virtuous.
We all know what the standards of good are for ourselves. But we often cannot hold ourselves to those standards, and we get embarrassed that we can’t. So we ignore the standards, and pretend they don’t exist to avoid that embarrassment.
- Knowing that you should spend another 10 minutes to finish a piece of work so that it’s DONE, but you want to go home.
- Knowing that you shouldn’t hit the snooze button on the alarm for another 20 minutes.
- Knowing that despite being tired, you should grab your workout clothes and head to the gym.
Living a virtuous life is not easy – it’s something you have to put effort into, every single day.
Some people who meet me assume that I wake up at 4am every day bright and cheerful and ready to take on the world.
The reality is a little less glamorous.
Most of the time my alarm buzzes and I wake up and ask myself “Why GOD WHY do I do this to myself?”… then I remind myself that my raison d’être is to do good and kick arse, and get on with my day.
OK, I’m Sold. Give Me Some!
There are a lot of virtues. In Meditations alone, there are some twenty-plus virtues mentioned. I’ll be writing about some of them soon.
Some that I have been reminded of recently are:
- Goodness – by yourself, and by whatever is important to you.
- Patience – in interacting with the people around you.
- Self-reliance – the ability to succeed at difficult tasks, eventually.
None of these things are particularly popular in the modern day, which is why I believe they are so important if we want to do something of substance with our lives.
Do good. Be virtuous.
- Those things are important too 😈.
Photo by Esteban Lopez.