The story of Mary laying baby Jesus in a manger because there was no room in the inn is known to many people. Perhaps less known is that Jesus was God's gift to mankind. Even less known is that God gives each person the inherent gift of virtues as a way to carry on the legacy of Jesus. They give continuity to his message and to his life. God gave us the virtues to use as a practical means to fulfill our human potential and as aides for our spiritual growth.
Many people don't know about God's gift of virtues because their hearts are filled with preconceived opinions and false impressions regarding them. Making room in your heart's inn is the ultimate welcoming of Christ Jesus, God, Spirit, (or however you address your Divine Source) into your life. The same is true for virtues. You make room in your heart's inn for virtues by getting rid of preconceived notions and false stereotypes about them.
What are Virtues?
In very basic terms, virtues are qualities, traits of character that have become a routine part of our lives. They are values that have become ingrained habits for us. Rather than viewing vice as the opposite of virtue, I see everything that we think and do falling somewhere on the spectrum of virtue. The spectrum consists of both healthy and unhealthy parts. The healthy part is known as the mean. The unhealthy parts are either extreme of a virtue: too little or too much. For instance, too little courage would be cowardliness and too much courage would be brashness.
The true form of each virtue exists in its healthy mean. Either unhealthy extreme is a distortion of the true meaning and power of a virtue.
Some common preconceptions about virtues are: (1) they are just about morals; (2) Ms. Manners wrote their manual; (3) you have to be like Mother Teresa; and (4) they are only for the serious-minded person who never has any fun. I am happy to inform you that none of these are true. (Did I just hear a collective ‘whew?')
For the last seven years, I have been studying and writing about virtues. I have developed a non-moralistic, practical approach to them with only a mention of morals and a mere hint of mannerly behavior. Mother Teresa is an excellent role model for many of the virtues, but this doesn't mean you have to be like her. You need to be serious about putting virtues in your life while having fun with them. This keeps virtues alive and growing.
Preoccupation with the form of virtues associated with Victorian England and similar cultures has tended to equate virtue with hypocrisy. This has caused them to be viewed as villains by many people.
Virtues are not villains, but their misuse for the purpose of judging and condemning is villainous. Wanting to identify a villain, individuals cast virtues in an unpopular light. This has given rise to many false stereotypes. In a series of books about virtues that I am writing, and hope to have published in the near future, I have identified twenty-four false stereotypes.
Probably one of the most common false stereotypes is: virtues are rules that enslave people. This delusion traps you into believing that you must meet other peoples’ needs before your own.
The truth is: true virtues are meant to free you, not enslave you. True virtues free you by changing the messages you give yourself, helping you discover the real truths and priorities in life, and prompting you to take good care of yourself. The real intent of virtues is to help you utilize healthy boundaries while meeting your own needs as well as the needs of others.
Another common false stereotype is: practicing virtues creates a legion of followers who have no ability to think for themselves. The truth is: true virtues challenge you to be the leader of your own life. They do so by prompting you to be a progressive, independent thinker rather than follow the status quo. In today's fast-paced, frenzied culture, people look for the easiest and quickest way to do things. It is far easier and quicker to follow the lead of others than it is to lead your own life. The real intent of virtues is to compel you to take the path that is right for you even if it looks totally different than the one taken by others.
The basis for each false impression is fear. People can be so overwhelmed by fear that it enslaves them to their current way of thinking and doing things. Individuals become followers because they are afraid of being different.
Two Simple Exercises for Getting into a Spirit of Fun for Virtues
1. Imagine being a child and feeling the excitement of hearing the ice cream truck come to your neighborhood. Now feel that same excitement for virtues and get ready to taste the many flavors in which they come.
2. Imagine seeing a steam boat and hearing the captain enthusiastically persuading you with his booming voice saying, “Hop aboard and sail the world with me. Together let's discover a new frontier, a brand new world of true virtues. " Feel yourself catching the captain's contagious excitement.
The truth comes to an open heart. If you wish to learn the truth about God's gift of virtues, your heart can't be filled with preconceived notions and false stereotypes about them. Let these go, and you will have made room in your heart's inn for virtues in their true form.
Copyright 2008 Rose A. Booth (Modified 3/11/08)
I'm carving out a second career as a published author of books about virtues and as an educator of virtues. For the last seven years, I have been studying and writing about virtues. I have developed a non-moralistic, practical approach to them with only a mention of morals and a mere hint of mannerly behavior. Prior to taking early retirement at the age of 50, I worked for 23 years in the field of public health as an administrative dietitian (RD). I've earned two master's degrees. The first one was in Family and Child Development at Kansas State University. The second master's degree was in Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I retain my RD status by doing continuing education hours so I can stay abreast in the field of dietetics. I've lived most of my life in the Heartlands where I continue to live with my husband and our two cats who are our children. As surprising as it may seem, our cats are among my many virtue teachers. For me, all of life is a classroom for learning about virtues.