I hear so much about “virtue signaling” these days. And it’s kind of depressing. If you have not heard the phrase, it basically means that some people will show their distaste or hatred of some behavior or movement or policy and thus show how they are somehow morally superior to the people who support or advocate those things they find repugnant. It’s bad manners, to be blunt. It’s also a sad commentary on what passes as “virtue” these days.
Traditionally, there are four cardinal virtues, which just means the main virtues on which all other upright behavior hinges. These are prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. If you hear about any of these today it’s probably justice but always with the qualifier “social” preceding it. Whatever. Justice is justice and needs no qualifier, in my estimation.
To be just means to be fair. That means equal treatment for everyone, and also has to do with promises kept, and honest thoughts being shared. There is no duplicity in justice. There is a famous saying about it: “Justice is blind.” That means everyone is equal under the law. What’s holds true for one holds true for all.
Prudence is really about common sense. But, as the old saying goes, “common sense is not all that common.” Sometimes people with common sense suppress it so they can be popular within certain circles. That’s unfortunate. Some people really do not seem capable of critically thinking about things and they lack prudence. That’s sad.
Temperance has to do with moderation. So we could say, a temperate person never goes to extremes. I think, if you’ve been paying attention at all to what’s going on in our culture, very few people seem to practice this virtue…Most people who we hear from in the public square are operating at “11” all the time. That can’t be good for society or for the individual. Actually, if you had any prudence, you would know not to go ‘full throttle’ constantly as that can only lead to physical and emotional fatigue and harm.
Finally, we come to fortitude which has to do with courage. That does not mean being fearless in battle. The courageous Soldier is often quite scared, but he goes forward anyway. That is real courage. Also, holding on to one’s beliefs despite the jeers from the angry crowd is courageous. One of my favorite quotes is “Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.‘ ” It means not giving up and holding to your convictions. Of course, you need to have thoughtfully considered what you believe in and why to have the courage to stand on those beliefs. You’ve got to spend some time on that.
People who practice the cardinal virtues do not need to “signal” anyone. They merely live their lives with dignity and respect, for themselves and others. Truly virtuous people are impressive and need not yell or cry in disdain for what they oppose. People who meet them will very quickly know what and who the virtuous person respects and reverences without having to hear about all the things they don’t. And it’s easy to tell the truly virtuous do not think they are better than anyone else.
Let’s endeavor to be true virtuous people who treat others as we want to be treated. If we could get there, we would have a much more harmonious society. If we practiced the cardinal virtues, we would be happier, I’m convinced.
Just some things I’ve been pondering for the past couple of days. I hope you’ll ponder them, too. It’s important to examine our lives from time to time. We look at ourselves to improve ourselves and so the lives of those around us. For example, ‘Why am I angry? Why am I sad? Why am I impatient or intolerant of other views? Why do certain people irritate me? Why am I so irritating? Am I a positive or negative influence in others’ lives? Why am I here? Who is God? What does God want me to do? Who is my neighbor?’
Some self-examination questions need to be asked every day. Some need to be asked less frequently but still need to be from time to time. We can pray that the cardinal virtues become the virtues we all aspire to, for the sake of community and another old fashioned idea, “love of neighbor”