Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Towards Positive Virtues

I just wanted to let you all know I've given up exercising for the good of my health. I've also given up moderate drinking for the sake of my heart, and reading to improve my intellect.

I'm not going to stop doing those things, but I'm giving up on doing them for those reasons. What I'm going to do instead is run and hike and ride my bicycle because it's fun, drink wine because it tastes good and read because I love a good book.

It's too easy to fixate on what could be considered "negative" or "cautionary" virtues on a list of "thou shalt nots" dictated by what we think is physically or morally bad for us. While much of this might be common sense (ie "thou shalt not go skydiving without a parachute"), an exclusive focus on what to avoid is unhealthy and makes for a pretty lopsided existence. I've seen too much of this over the last few months as the elections approached and a steady stream of criticism and "we can't" has come from all directions.

By contrast "positive" or "aspirational" virtues give us ideals to work towards, rather than a list of things to avoid. If we work towards being better, happier men and women, better friends, better neighbors and better citizens of whatever community we happen to inhabit, chances are we'll at least partially accomplish our goals.

There is a subtle but vital distinction between merely trying to avoid the negative and striving to embrace the positive, it's the difference between trying not to let things get any worse and trying to make things better. If nothing else, it's a hell of a lot more fun.

It's one thing, for example, to tell a teenager that sex can be bad if you're not careful (we'll leave out the debate on abstinence only education for the time being) but without providing an example of a healthy, happy relationship standard to aspire to, you're not going to have much effect. If you tell people they need to to make sacrifices to save the environment, you'll lose most of them, but if you try to get people behind the idea of working towards a cleaner, happier, healthier community, you might get a bit more traction.

Don't do things because they're good for you, do them because they're good.

End of rant. Go do something useful with yourself. 



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