Wholesale and Retail

Most of us affirm abstract virtues and values like justice, freedom, respect, hope, trust,, sutainability, and gratitude. But we often neglect to practice them in the concrete instance involving one or more particular people, places and things Our actions have to embody our abstract virtues and values in order to be a virtuous person who puts time, money, and attention into living them in daily life.

Consider the minister who loves to preach but refuses to do pastoral care. Preaching that engages both head and heart must flow from directd personal experience, and pastoral care is an important form of that learning experience, Or the teacher who lecdtures but does not engage in answerubg questions or one on one help with students who are having trouble learning. In those one-on-one sessions the student is teaching the teacher how to be more effective in guidingthe learning process and keeping students engaged. Or t he supervisor who assigns work but is quick to punish or even fire but slow to affirm or help a struggline employee. Empasthetic and respectiful support and ennouragement is not only virtuous, it is also profitable, because high employee turnover is expensive to the firm.

It is those one on one acts that embody and feed the abstract understanding of how we should be with one another. It is good to seize the moment. I was at dinner with friends the other night when we realized that the woman ast the next table did not have any cash and the restaurant did not take credit cards. We came to her rescue with a $23 loan, trusting that she woujld payus back. When she was able to access cash and came to repay us, we were rewarded with a delightful evening of conv ersationwith our new fried.

Seizing the moment is ngood, but not enough. WE need to seek the moments as well. That ;m;ay mean getting out of our comfort zone, but the rewa rds as almost always bilateral I remember volunteering to teach English as a second language to three wives of grad students, all Muslims from different countries. I learned as much as I taught about their history, theiir cultures, their hopes and dreams.

So pick a value or two today to try to practice on friends or strangers, those with reandom encounters like our restuarant friend and those you seek out intentionally. Ast the end of the day, ask yourself how you practiced justice, or trust, or respect, and how it enriched your understanding of what that virtue means in practce and how that encounter strenftgthened your commitment to being a just or trusting of resepctful person.

You and the world will be better for the effort.

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The Turning of the Year: The First Virtue Resolution

I think of these winter holidays—solstice, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day—as one long celebration of  the turning of the year and a fresh start.  Like many Americans, I am more than ready to turn the page on a very difficult and challenging year. At this time of year starting again has always meant New year’s resolutions. 

My mother introduced me to this practice.  I remember that when I was ten, I resolved to learn to light the gas kitchen range, which did not have  pilot light. Pretty scary.  I did.  But after a year when we were on sabbatical and had a similar situation, with every lighting of the broiler threatening to burn down the house.  I made a lifelong commitment to electric cooking stoves.   

I have just finished the draft of a new book called Passionately Moderate: Democracy and Civic Virtue. Working on that book, I have been thinking a lot about virtue this year, and I decided to resolve, not so much as to do in 2021, as to be. I picked three virtues that I wanted to make into habits of the heart that guided my actions.  They are prudence, temperance, and simplicity. Each one gets a blog—one today, one next week, and one on New Year’s day.  Today’s reflection is on prudence.

Prudence was one of Aristotle’s private virtues, along with temperance. (His public virtues were courage and justice.) Prudence the quintessential economist’s virtue, wise use of resources and especially money, but also time and attention. So how do I want to use those resources in 2021 in ways that are wiser and more intentional?

I started with money, and I settled on the magic number three (since I started with three virtues).  What are the three most important things I want to do with my money in 2021? I divided this virtue also into three parts, body, mind, and spirit. For the body,  I want to save more, because I am approaching my 80th birthday and watching my friends experience the challenges of aging—even myself, although on a slower track so far.  I want to be sure that I have enough resources to ensure that I don’t burden my children with the cost of my long-term care should that become necessary.  I set a target figure for annual saving.

 Second, I want to travel again—I missed it so much last year. Travel is a treat for all three aspects of being, but especially the mind. I learn so much about other places and other cultures when I travel.

Third, I want to ensure that ten percent of my income goes to charity, an act of compassion that is an expression of spirit.  Most of it goes to organizations that help those in need and to my religious community, with a scattering of supporting the arts (like ETV) and, in even-numbered years, political candidates.  

With those three numbers engraved in stone, the rest of the budget, from electric bills and dog grooming to food and taxes—had to divvy up what was left. I know that as I get older, I will probably travel less and spend more on services that enable me to live at home as long as possible, but I’m not there yet, so this resolution will get an annual review.

What about the other resources of time and attention? Again, I want to spend my time on caring for body, mind and spirit  Each day has to satisfy three priorities—exercise and healthy eating for the body, reading and learning for the mind, contemplation and mindfulness for the spirit. Like the budget, the to-do list has to make those three items priorities.

British writer E.B. White once said that when he woke up in the morning, he couldn’t decide whether to enjoy the world or improve the world.  It made it hard to plan his day. It’s not either/or, it is both/and.  Some of that time and attention needs to be directed toward improving the world, making it more peaceful, compassionate, just, and sustainable.  The content of those improvements depends on making habits of  the other two virtues, temperance and simplicity.  To be continued. ..