Virtue: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
By: Krista Keil
A few years ago I moved to DC from Colorado, and a striking difference I noticed was the chronic poverty and homelessness. These factors came into play on one of my bus rides to work. I recall a particularly memorable interaction between the bus driver and a patron. An elderly woman who was wheel-chair bound, who could have potentially been homeless, was being quite particular about how and where she sat. The bus driver got up from his seat in order to help her get situated; their conversation was loud enough for everyone on the bus to hear. The woman was being quite demanding and persistent, to the point of rudeness. As this interaction came to a close, the woman said, “Thank you for helping me sir, I’m blind in my left eye, so when I sit facing the other direction I can’t see around me.” The bus driver turned and said, “No problem, ma’am.” As I continued to observe them, I noticed kindness, appreciation, and relief depicted by their facial expressions. The woman’s anxious demeanor seemed to relax. This moment penetrated my mind and my heart for several reasons: for one, although this is a seemingly small act, it was a very important snapshot into this woman’s life and impacted the course of her day; two, no one else on the bus attempted to help, so the bus driver stepped in to assist, without being given extra payment or recognition; third, and most importantly, this act conveyed the simple courtesy of recognizing the dignity of another person- and this is the key to living virtuously.
The bus driver chose to help this woman and endure her harsh demeanor without spewing back, asking why, or being fearful to physically assist her despite being amidst COVID circumstances. In the moment, he chose the greater good, the path of virtue. As mentioned a few months ago on this blog, virtuous acts become virtuous habits, and moments of virtuous choices hold transformative power. It’s easy to think that our day to day choices don’t make a difference, but as is evident from the example of the bus driver, we can see that they most certainly do. While the bus driver may have been aware that many of the passengers were watching, it seems unlikely the bus driver participated in this act for recognition, and it’s more than likely, that the driver didn’t realize the impact he made on those observing that day- including me. This just goes to say, that even when you think nobody notices- they do, and one small act can make a bigger impact than you think. This is why living virtuously matters.
After this encounter, it occurred to me that the best gift you can give someone is the gift of virtue. Every time an individual makes a decision to be selfless rather than selfish, they choose virtue. You may never know how you influence someone through your words or actions, but if you consistently choose to do the right thing, chances are, whoever is watching won’t forget. One act at a time, moment by moment, day by day, year by year- this is how we transform our culture.
Some may think that this an over-simplified approach, and some may feel overwhelmed by even beginning the endeavor. If you fall in either of those camps, or are perhaps somewhere in the middle, I encourage you to learn more about the four cardinal virtues. While there are many virtues, there are four virtues from which all other virtues flow: temperance (self-control/moderation), justice (fairness), fortitude (interior strength/endurance), and prudence (good judgement). These virtues are time-tested, tried, and true, through thousands of years of study by ancient philosophers. Whether it be Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Plato, or Cicero, these virtues have stood the test of time. By cultivating an understanding of the four cardinal virtues, one can begin to see how to integrate these virtues into daily life. Cultivating virtuous habits helps us build the inner strength necessary to confront whatever may come in life. Although virtue sets the bar high, it certainly is not out of reach; it keeps us striving for more and leads the human person to fulfillment. Additionally, the cardinal virtues can help anyone and everyone give proper order to the things that matter most in life. To have a discerning mind and heart in our everyday choices and all circumstances makes a world of a difference- this is exactly what the four cardinal virtues seek to achieve.
So the next time you’re at the grocery store, spend a little extra time talking to the cashier, or talk to the homeless person on the street that you always pass by; spend that extra minute building a fort with your child or teaching them to pick up their toys; have that conversation with a co-worker that you’ve been putting off; listen to a friend when they are hurting; rectify relationships that have gone sour. Take the time to live virtuously. See where it leads you; I assure you it’ll be worth it, because virtue never fails. It is the gatekeeper to moral excellence.