When school gets back into session, I am going to ignore school zone speed limits. How dare the government tell me that I have to drive 15 miles per hour from 2-3pm in certain sections of town! My cars have hundreds of horsepower that are waiting to be unleashed. It’s undermining our freedoms! My comfort and happiness is just as important as those kindergarteners! Also, what’s the difference between a kid being hit by a car going 15 miles per hour vs. one going 45? Just let me be me! How dare the government try to protect those who are vulnerable!
Liberty can no more exist without virtue . . . than the body can live and move without a soul.
What is Civic Virtue? It is a concept that needs to be addressed more in our schools today, but I want to touch on it here.
“Virtue is excellence in the character of a person. It refers to a desirable disposition, which can prompt individuals to be good persons and to do good things in regard to others and the community in general. Civic virtue refers to the dispositions or habits of behavior that direct citizens to subordinate their personal interests when necessary to contribute significantly to the common good of their community.”
I love this definition, and it essentially means that we need to put others first for the good of those around us. As a Christian, I can look to Jesus as an example. He literally gave his life that I may have salvation. Countless times, he put the good of those around him above himself, doing miracles when he was dog tired, caring for the downtrodden in society (widows, orphans, adulterers, tax collectors), and even encouraging us to submit to earthly authority…though the “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” has many interpretations. The early church saw its members sell their possessions for the good of the community and fed and cared for the poor and widows among them. We have a clear directive as Christians to put the good of others before our own desires.
As to government, James Madison (who is a complicated figure in American History), said this at the Constitutional convention:
‘‘Is there no virtue among us? If there be not . . . no theoretical checks, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical [unrealistic] idea.’’
Essentially we will not have freedom or happiness if we as individuals aren’t capable of putting the good of the community above our own selfish desires. Furthermore, we need to display some amount of virtue.
What is virtue? Virtue is excellence in the character of a person. It refers to a desirable disposition, which can prompt individuals to be good persons and to do good things in regard to others and the community in general.
The idea of virtue goes all the way back to the Greeks and Romans (specifically Aristotle and Cicero), but our modern word goes back to the Latin word virtutem which roughly means, “moral strength, high character, manliness, goodness, valor, bravery, courage, excellence, and worth.”
Furthermore virtue is action. Ben Franklin in his autobiography listed 13 virtues that he felt should be practiced in order to be a better citizen. He certainly did not master them, but their pursuit is worthwhile and his ideas helped create an early idea of American civic virtue. His list was made up of temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, chastity, humility, and tranquility.
For a long time, these core ideas of civic virtue underpinned our actions toward one another, and bolstered our society and government. Sadly, I fear that the practices of civic virtue are disappearing or have disappeared, which does not bode well for us as a society or a nation for our future. I spend a whole day on the idea of civic virtue with my students each year (though I wish we could spend more time on it), and I hope I demonstrate it in my daily life, though I am the first to admit there are many times I fail.
This all brings me back to the topic of face masks. My analogy with the school zone at the beginning of this post is the closest thing I can come up with to our current situation. I hear no one protesting slowing down for the safety of our children, or complaining how the government is taking away our rights. Similarly, wearing a mask is done to protect those who are vulnerable. My daughter, my immunocompromised mom, my brother in law going through cancer treatments, the elderly, and honestly all of us. Is a mask inconvenient? Yes. It fogs up my glasses. Is it as nice as walking through the store without a mask? No. However, at the same time, you don’t have to wear it all the time (just like school zones), and it won’t be forever. Yet every day I see people not wearing masks it basically makes me assume the thought process is, “I know I might be causing harm here, but I hate to have my glasses fog up or get my mouth area sweaty.” Furthermore, a man scolded my wife in the grocery store FOR wearing a mask, and I had two gentleman at Starbucks loudly converse why they weren’t wearing masks around a group full of people who were. (Largely about how it was the government trying to control us). It’s been an issue that’s made me want to say something back at people, but following Franklin’s advice on silence, resolution, and tranquility, I stay quiet.
I could go on about how our current president refuses to set an example of civic virtue with masks (or basically anything), but I won’t here…I just want to leave you with this. Virtue is a decision that YOU can make. You can choose to put those around you first, at the store, at restaurants, and at places of worship. I hope this has been helpful, and I hope that through INDIVIDUAL action, we can forge a better society for ALL of us.