I have been doing an online course that studies Celtic virtues as a way to navigate life. Especially useful during times of challenge. It has been a profound and meaningful experience in a boots-on-the-ground kind of way. We have worked with, and explored, the virtues of wisdom, generosity, humility and more; finding ways to incorporate these states of excellence into the way we live.
It all promises to support a lifelong journey of becoming ever more masterful of an inner balance that brings an outer balance.
In other words, the development of strengths from the inside out and a kind of honing that has nothing to do with looking virtuous. Instead, having everything to do with developing a an inner moral compass that is yours and yours alone. One that transcends the times, other people’s opinions, and even, ultimately, your own shortcomings.
In light of this, and in light of the times we are living in, I have questions. A lot of them. Here are a few:
When did it become virtuous to follow an outer authority without question?
When did it become virtuous to do things not because you believed in them but because you did not want to upset another?
When did it become virtuous to vilify others who believed differently than you?
When did it become virtuous to agree to choices driven by profit and corporate agenda?
When did it become virtuous to abdicate free will?
And when did it become virtuous to be afraid with others as a way to show you care?
I recognize that we are all up against something big, unknown and scary. And yet, isn’t that exactly the time to lean into virtues like wisdom, humility and generosity? I know this is hard. But all things virtuous and worth doing, worth living for, fighting for and dying for, are. That’s the point. The virtues are not when it is easy and anyone could do it. The virtues are for when you don’t know what to do. Or for when you might forget what to do.
Or, for when you might be pressured, shamed or guilted to do what you would never want to do.
When I was growing up, my father’s side of the family was very, very Catholic. There were nuns and priests in the family. It was a time when someone like my grandfather would go to mass every day. I went to. That’s what we did. Not every day, but on Sundays.
At some point it began to dawn on me that there were people in church often seen as the most pious, the most virtuous of all, who actually were nothing of the kind. “Good people” who were never shy to remind you of just that. How good they were. Along with how unassailable their goodness was, such that to speak against it was a blasphemous act of the highest order. Punishable by death. Or at least one of its equivalents.
We have to be very, very careful right now about what we choose to believe it is that makes us good and virtuous people. And when it is that we are using that “goodness” as a cover for something that should never, ever, be allowed to take hold between us or within us.