Virtues are good. Virtues tend to be linked to morality, rather than ethics.* This entire Delphic Maxim series is based on what I consider virtues. I also think of virtues as strengths of character. As a parent this particular Maxim is doubly important.
My son is 4 and 3/4 years. I don’t know if 4 was this hard for other parents (I’m hearing that yes it was/is), but in our house it has been the season of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One moment my son is being super rad: maybe he’s funny, helpful, independent, clever, brave, impressive, gentle, loving, or any other number of Good and Virtuous Things. The next moment he’s thrown a metal car at my face, punched his sister, run laughing through the house hitting everything he can, slammed all the doors, and told me I’m the shittiest parent ever. Do you have whiplash? Because I do. (No, really. I officially have diagnosable whiplash from this kid.)
At this age Son has figured out that he doesn’t have to sit on the time out step. He knows he can walk away from deep breaths. Punishments and consequences are in a bit of quagmire right now. So what’s the best solution I can think of? Praise virtue. Praise his virtues. Praise his virtuous deeds. And then do it some more.
While this might not work for all parenting situations or for all other Life Situations, I think celebrating what we think of as virtue is important. I want to read stories to my kids of imagined or real-life people living virtuously – or working to become so. I want to model a virtuous life. I want to see virtues reflected in the people my family surrounds themselves with. I want to see more virtue in my communities.
This wikipedia page has a great collection of different collections of virtues from around the world. Some of my favorites are: courage, justice, mercy, generosity, gratitude, trustworthiness, sincerity, and perseverance, to name but a handful. Humor isn’t listed anywhere, but I think humor ought to be!
According to the above linked wikipedia entry, Aristotle says, “virtue is excellence at being human, a skill that helps a person survive, thrive, form meaningful relationships, and find happiness. Learning virtue is usually difficult at first, but becomes easier with practice over time until it becomes a habit.” I agree with this. As with all of these Maxims and virtues, and as Gandhi said, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world.
*Some say there is no difference between ethics and morals; I think there’s an important difference. Morals are behaviours deemed Good, usually from an external source, like society or a god, and tend to be black and white/good or bad. Ethics are much more grey, more situational, and must be cultivated from within. I don’t think either one set or the other is intrinsically better than the other. Some people have terrible ethics; many of the morals my culture embraces are just fine.