The Gravel, Sand and Pebble components: Virtues
We likened the steel component of this foundation we are trying to build to excellence in one’s work or studies. We work, or study for that matter, not just to earn a living but in order to acquire knowledge and skills. As we do this in a constant and stable way, we acquire virtues which will eventually help us attain personal maturity.
Virtues are those stable dispositions that make a person good or do good. It is to these that we liken the gravel, sand and pebble components of this foundation. They are built from the constant practice of moral values that are systematically discussed in Chapter 2.
One acquires virtues as he constantly practices a good act, up to a point that that act becomes part of him, his second nature. In simple words, we call a virtue a good habit, as opposed to vice as a bad habit. But both are habits- acts that you have gotten used to that to practice them does not require much effort anymore at some point.
One day, one of my predecessors in Kapuluan said in a rather shocking way that we should train the students who come to our Center in virtue lest they become D.O.M. He meant dirty old men. Why so? He said that what he had been teaching theoretically when he was dealing with university students is now an actual, living reality for him as he deals with professionals.
A dirty old man does not notice anymore that he is dirty. But the people around him know that he is dirty and unless he has a good friend to tell him, no one will dare tell him to change for the better. That is the epitome of vice- when one does not notice anymore his own bad ways. It has become second nature to him.
And so it is with virtue. It is a good habit. And you do not acquire a habit overnight. You acquire a virtue through practice and learning from the failure of not practicing it. And the best time to develop virtues is when one is still young. Those who say that they will start living a good life when they are old end up living miserable, vicious lives, unless perhaps they are granted special divine assistance, which could help them start developing good habits when it is a bit late. But it may not be easy. First, they have to root out the bad habits they have acquired through the years while they start acquiring the corresponding good habits. What popular knowledge says is true: it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks.
And virtues, as you live them day in and day out, make up your lifestyle. I got that idea from a friend when I was discussing with him the importance of cultivating virtues while he is still young. He told me that he got the idea quickly because he remembered his values education teacher in high school telling them about a lifestyle of sin. People who have gotten use to some vices end up having a lifestyle of sin.
Don’t think of majestic feats here, especially now that movies of superheroes of all sorts proliferate. It is true that many times these superheroes exemplify certain virtues like courage and charity. We cannot all be superheroes but virtuous men and women, yes! How do we start? Start with little things. Have we not heard several times that a thousand mile starts with a single step and he who could be trusted in what is little could also be trusted in what is great?
Do not get used to bad manners, no matter how small they are and whether you are alone or with others. If you do not root them out while they are small, you will get used to them later and it will be very difficult to root them out. I was convinced of this idea during the time when there were unexpectedly a number of cockroaches infesting our house up to a point that you just see them dead on the floor without having to do anything. At first, we were quick in removing each and every cockroach we found on the floor. As the days progressed, after one cockroach was not immediately removed and then another, we started getting used to it. Until one day, someone got into his senses, removed all dead cockroaches on the floor and reminded us to start developing the habit of removing cockroaches right away.
I have not mentioned the smell of cockroaches or any foul smelling matter you could think of. If you do not mind the smell, you will end up getting used to it. I used to wonder how people in slum areas, and in some unkempt hospitals, live with the smell, until I studied more on habits.
We could apply these in our own lives. We may have this defect or this bad habit. We notice it at the start – we smell the bad odor thanks to our sensory faculties or our bad character thanks to our spiritual faculties. If we do not mind correcting these things, we could end up getting used to them. What is worse is when we start justifying our having a bad odor or bad character. That is what we see around us many times. This is mainly due to pride which could be the most insidious vice.People who realize their bad character, if they are not humble enough to acknowledge them and work on acquiring the corresponding good habit, start justifying their being just like that. My friend, in fact, wrote, “don’t say that’s the way I am, it’s my character. No, it’s your lack of character. ‘Esto vir!’
Esto vir, be a man! Virtue in fact could be traced for the Latin word “virtus” which means strength or manliness. Man here refers to human beings male and female. Virtues are good for man because they make man more a man. They are rooted in human nature. Hence, we live them not as if they come from without but as they are within man. Hence, we develop our personality more as we develop and grow in virtue. That is why we want to root out bad habits or vices, not only because they make us look bad but because they stunt our full human development, they go against what we are, our human nature.
The practice of virtue has been promoted since time immemorial. In fact, the four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance had been described by the ancient Greek philosophers like Plato. They are cardinal virtues because they serve as hinges to which other virtues could be traced and they refer to the different faculties of man’s body and soul. Prudence rests on man’s intellect; justice on his will; fortitude on his irascible appetite and temperance on his concupiscible appetite. You may refer to classic works on virtues, especially Aristotle’s, Aquinas’ and Pieper’s, if you wish to go deeper into this topic.
I started this chapter quoting a part of my speech to the RCMC where I pointed out the major concern the TOSP 1996 finalists presented to President Ramos at that time: that the real crisis that we have is not the crises brought about by social ills plaguing our country but in the ultimate sense, a moral crisis! And I now add that that moral crisis stems from a crisis in virtue.
It seems that our present day society has neglected the promotion of virtue. In fact, ask young people nowadays and you will be surprised that they do not really understand the meaning of virtue. There seems to be so much praise given on aberrant lifestyles which are actually external expressions of bad habits, and so little talk on good manners.
One of the most neglected virtues now is purity which has two brothers, modesty and decency. And it affects young people a lot. There is so much talk about sex in media- we have sex bomb dancers, sex in the city television program and all sorts of shows, ads, articles that refer directly or indirectly to sex. And yet, there is very little or no public talk on purity!
When I went to Dipolog recently, at the Dapitan port, I saw a poster perhaps misplaced in the Tourism desk, promoting the use of condom as a protection against AIDS. I saw a similar ad in the Perth airport that gave me a negative image of the city. Near the urinals in the men’s room are actual condoms posted with a similar message as the one in Dipolog. I wondered whether Perth had the reputation for sex trade such that the first impression they give of their city, in their very own airport, is ”protection” from AIDS. What are they asking us to protect ourselves against AIDS from? From our wives? I still remember the visit of a senator from Thailand nicknamed “condom king” in our country. He was promoting condom as a protection against AIDS. In Thailand where there condom use is prolific, AIDS cases number more than half a million. And he is asking us to use condom here where we only have around 3,000 cases of AIDS in a population of 85M?
What appears to be promoted here is not protection against AIDS but sexual promiscuity among the youth. What do you distribute condoms in schools for? Or in activities of school organizations or in university fairs? And our older ones are wondering why there is an increasing rate of premarital sex going on. And together with that, demand for abortions. It is a slippery slope- give them contraception and later they will ask for abortion and euthanasia. Just read what is going on in countries where there is easy access to and promotion of contraception. The destruction of life and its subsequent culture of death is unimaginable. We have to learn from their mistakes and be wise enough not to repeat them in our own country.
Purity is a very attractive virtue, like any virtue for that matter because it helps perfect human nature. It has to be presented as it is- a positive act that develops the whole person and upholds the very dignity that is proper to it. My friend best describes it as an affirmation of love. When you love someone, you will do everything, no matter how small to please him or her and you avoid everything, no matter how small, that would displease him or her in any way. That is purity. When you deny yourself of something that will destroy this virtue (e.g., not watching porn), it is not a deprivation of your capacity to act. It rather an appreciation of something higher, of your human dignity as enhanced by the virtue of purity.
It is part of the cardinal virtue of temperance whose small brothers, modesty and decency are but external manifestations of one’s inner purity. That is why those who are modest in their behavior and decent in the way they dress up and speak reflect an inner purity. That is why I always tell my friends to dress up well and elegantly because it reflects not just their character but their respects towards the people who will meet them.
I encourage all young people to see purity as it is – something good, attractive and positive. Start living it even if all your friends tell you otherwise. You are making a good investment for your future- it would help you keep away from marital infidelities that are becoming more common nowadays because precisely of the lack of training in purity in recent years. Live it because, as my friend wrote, “it is among the chaste where you find the finest men in every way and among the lustful predominate the timid, the selfish, the treacherous and cruel characters of little manliness.”
Another virtue that is perhaps talked about more but practiced less is honesty. There is so much graft and corruption around. Don’t look too far so as to blame the government. Look at where you live or where you work. Again, corruption starts as any vice with what is small and apparently trivial thing.
Have you not been told as a student that it is better to fail an exam than to cheat? It is quite surprising that many high school students, even from Catholic schools, have developed the attitude that it is all right to cheat in exams as long as you are not caught. It should have been less in Catholic schools where it is supposed to be taught that the teacher may not be around to watch over your exam but God is there to see you all the time. But even than doctrine which promotes honesty may not even be taught anymore.
Why is it better to cheat than to fail an exam? To fail an exam is just for a moment. It may even boost you to study better so as to pass the next exam. But to cheat in an exam is a personal failure and it may be the start of a whole string of cheating expeditions- to your parents, friends, spouse in the future, etc. Enough of the business and government scandals which, I opine, could be traced to some small acts of dishonesty that were not corrected by those involved, up to such point that they do not anymore notice that they are taking part in a scandal!
Look at this story of a public school teacher somewhere in the south. His superintendent asked him and his fellow teachers to help their senior students answer the National Secondary Aptitude Test (NSAT).
He found it difficult to teach honesty in class because he was compelled to teach and allow his students to cheat during a national exam. Why so? In order for their district to get a high mark in that national exam. This example shows our obsession for our “image,” of what people think about us, which is what vanity is all about. The other vice related to it is pride which refers to what we think of ourselves.
As the old saying says, we have to practice what we teach. Truly, good example is the best teacher. Yes, we also have to teach virtues while we strive to live them. It is not enough to say that values are caught not taught. A good way to start is to make a list of virtues that you think you have to work on like prudence, honesty, chastity, diligence, sincerity, generosity, civic- mindedness, patriotism, obedience, temperance, fortitude, etc. Then, prioritize. Determine which one you are going to work on first. It is best to start working on what you find most difficult. Read something about that virtue or attend a talk or a seminar about it. There are many good books around explaining virtues. I know of study centers all around the country which offer training on virtue. As you strive to acquire that first virtue, you will realize that you are also working on some aspects of another virtue and another, since they are interrelated. As what the angelic doctor said, virtues are like fingers which grow together at the same time. They are all rooted in human nature. Then, you would realize that it is not really that difficult to be good, or to acquire this particular virtue. The moment it becomes second nature to you, you would know that you have acquired that good habit, that you are now living the virtue.
I suggest that you start with the virtue of diligence. It is connected to the first component of this foundation which is aiming for excellence and it is a virtue that will help you live other virtues connected to work. As I mentioned above, diligence means learning how to love your work. It is connected with industriousness and hardwork. When one loves his work (diligence) and gives his very best efforts in it (industriousness), he does not mind the difficulties that come along the way (fortitude); he comes to work on time (punctuality) and follows a schedule (order); he tries to work well with the others (conviviality), helps them (charity) and shares to them his knowledge and skills (generosity); he is conscious of being tidy and well- dressed (decency) and avoids coarse manners and the use of foul language in dealing with his peers (modesty); he keeps his mind clean (purity) so as to focus on his work and not be distracted with impure thoughts; he comes home on time so as to take care of his family (responsibility) and he finds time to be with his children and attend to their needs and his wife’s (paternal piety); he offers his work to God (piety) which provides meaning to what he does and thereby makes him give his best in everything; with piety, he knows that he is but an administrator of the goods of this world and his own talents (humility) which will prevent him from falling into pride; and you could go on and on. Virtues are interconnected. Start with the one which will bring you to the rest.
Now you see that acquiring virtue is a lifelong process. We grow in virtue as we go through life. We could never really say that we are sufficiently formed, in as much as we could not really say that after several years of striving to acquire the virtue of humility and root out pride in our life, we are now humble. Formation never ends. It is rather moving to see older people undergoing formation as eagerly as high school students, year after year, month after month and week after week, not to mention their daily struggles to live virtues. I have seen that with my own eyes. I have several friends, some of them could have been my fathers, who up to know undergo formation with a lot of zest!
To end this gravel, sand and pebble component for nation building, I like to recall one of the most understood way of presenting the idea of building one’s character which is forged by virtue. We have to be aware that what enters our external senses- smell, taste, hearing, touch, sight- help form our thoughts, our ideas. Our ideas, in turn, are reflected in our actions. Our speech, for example, reflects what is in our mind. One cannot sustain a good deed if it is not based on firm convictions(e.g., good ideas). How many charitable works have been started and not sustained? These actions build up our habits- virtues if they are good and vices if they are bad. And our character is a summation of all these habits. And all these constitute our lifestyle- the way we live, the way we view events in our life. This gives use a good reason to be more discerning in our forms of entertainment. Now that mass media has become the greatest educator of our time, we have to be prudent in the type of music we listen to and most especially on what we watch.
It is sad but the television is not as wholesome as it was before. There is so much pornography around. There are so many scenes in movies that depict intimate relations in the name of art. There was even a point when I have not seen as many underwear billboards in other cities like Los Angeles, Perth, Singapore, Boston, Rome, San Francisco and Paris, as there was in Metro Manila. Creative people seem not to get out of the box showing skins and bodies.
We are losing our sense of intimacy, the self- respect that we have and that sensitivity towards our fellowmen. Some people say that sex scenes have to be shown in movies so as to portray what is going on, what is natural. I beg to disagree. What is natural in sex is that it is intimate, it is between two persons, man and woman. And not just between a man and a woman who meet each other on the street. Their relationship have to be sealed by marriage, an institution which ensures the commitment of the couple and not just their infatuation, and the proper nurturing of the fruits of that committed relationship- children who are actually you and me. Otherwise, we will just be a couple of dogs on the street, meeting each other and decide to have sex. That is why a woman who precisely act that way is called a bitch, a female dog. The same would be true for a man acting like a male dog. It seems that we have a lot of them now and it seems that that is what is promoted. Just look at Filipino movies and the ‘values’ they promote.
What is the effect of all these? So much promiscuity around. If we do not act to clean up our moral environment, the young people we ‘nurture’ now in such an environment will grow up spent and without deep moral convictions. Again, one does not get firm convictions overnight. We have to start forming the youth in virtue now.