By Dianne Witte
A few years ago, a friend shared a set of cards with me, called Virtues Reflection Cards. There are 100 cards in the set. Each card examines a virtue, with a picture of nature, a quotation from a wise source, a description of it, six ways to practice it and an affirmation. My friend suggested I might be interested in them. My first reaction was, not really, why would I want to be reminded of characteristics I didn’t have? I would just feel inadequate and uncomfortable.
I did get the cards, but they sat around for a while before I gave them a serious look. I had the idea that if I didn’t have those virtues, that’s “just the way it is.” Much like, you are either born or raised to have a particular musical talent or artistic ability. If I didn’t have a quality, that is “just the way I am.”
Recently, I heard the same remark from a presidential candidate after he had made a rude remark and was backtracking on it. “That’s just the way I am,” he said. Got me to thinking, isn’t that really a cop out? Here we have a man who has reportedly been a huge business success, claiming he can’t “control” certain aspects of his behavior. Guess it doesn’t take a virtuous person, to be successful in the material sense. However, if you’re interested in self-improvement in relationships and other aspects of living, you might want to look at how others do it.
There are examples of behavior that we could consider exemplary. Take for instance, the kindness practiced by the Dalai Lama, or the compassion of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, or the sportsmanship of Olympic runner, Hamblin, who stopped in the middle of a race, to help a competitor who had fallen. Is that “just the way they are” or did they have to cultivate those commendable characteristics? The Dalai Lama, for one, cultivates kindness as his life philosophy. Saint Theresa practiced her philosophy of compassion in daily acts of service. I don’t know, but I bet Hamblin learned her sportsmanship in training, and didn’t just pop out of her mother’s womb that way.
So, it seems that instead of going to the default of helpless victimhood, we can change “the way we are.” Confucius says, “The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort.” Yes, it is comfortable not to expect better of ourselves. But, if we want to further the progress of humanity, we can only start with ourselves. By thinking of virtue, as Confucius says, we focus on the positive, and listen to our soul’s call to strive to our highest and best. As Oprah says, “You have to know better, to do better.” I’ve learned, I can be a better person, even though I wasn’t born or raised that way. It may be difficult, but Confucius also said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” I offer this to those who have tried and failed. Keep going. Cultivating a virtue is a lifelong project. Just ask the Dalai Lama.
Well, back to the Virtues Cards. I selected the virtue of “acceptance” as my first one on which to focus. I carried that card around for nearly a year. It is bent and somewhat tattered, but as a result, I adopted my favorite saying, “the way it is, is the way it is,” as my mantra. Sounds hauntingly similar to “that’s just the way I am,” doesn’t it? So now the question, are those who say, “That’s just the way I am,” copping out, or accepting themselves? Good question. I believe it depends on the situation and the individual. I am learning to accept situations as they are, not resigning myself to helplessness, but learning to make choices and adapt to things I can’t seem to change. But at least, I give myself the opportunity to make choices about whether “that’s just the way I am,” or it’s the best I can do right now and take steps to improve where I can. I guess that’s what happens when people become thoughtful and considerate, smile, go on a diet, adopt a habit of exercise or become a better listener, develop a habit of thoughtful consideration, kindness, and/or compassion…..you name it!
I do expect at least as much from a presidential candidate. As a representative of our nation, I expect them to set an example of morality, responsible thoughtfulness and tact. That hasn’t been true for this election cycle. Clinton has been seen to make mistakes too, for example the controversy over her private email server. But, did you notice, she took responsibility, apologized and indicated how she would change. She didn’t say, “Well, that’s just the way I am.”
I do accept Trump is where he is, much like I wasn’t ready to explore virtues. But as a candidate for the highest office in the land, he must strive to do better, like I’m doing. So far, that hasn’t happened. I’ve learned my acceptance must be balanced with wisdom. I don’t accept without expecting improvement in myself or others.
Since my experience with acceptance, I’ve moved on to explore other virtues like gratitude and generosity. Maybe I’ll explore tact next. Have I been tactful in writing this article? You decide. Just as an aside, I’ve taken a closer look at those “Virtues Reflection Cards.” I find that they have a great online presence at http://virtuesproject.org They have a Facebook page, and offer resources for educators, parents and individuals. I recommend a visit.