The key to character growth in life is simply the humble willingness to change
The ancient Greeks considered wisdom to be the master virtue, the one that directs all the others. Wisdom is good judgment. It enables us to make reasoned decisions that are both good for us and good for others. Wisdom tells us how to put the other virtues into practice – when to act, how to act, and how to balance different virtues when they conflict. Wisdom enables us to discern correctly, to see what is truly important in life, and to set priorities.
The second virtue named by the Greeks is justice. Justice means respecting the rights of all. Justice also includes self-respect, a proper regard for our own rights and dignity. Schools often center on justice because it includes so many of the interpersonal virtues – civility, honesty, respect, responsibility, and tolerance. A concern for justice and the capacity for moral indignation in the face of injustice inspires us to work as citizens to build a more just Society and World.
The third virtue named by the Greeks is fortitude. Fortitude enables us to do what is right in the face of difficulty. The right decision in life is often the hard one. ‘Do the hard right instead of the easy wrong’, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’. Fortitude is the inner toughness that enables us to overcome or withstand hardship, defeats, inconvenience, and pain. Courage, resilience, patience, perseverance, endurance, and a healthy self-confidence are all aspects of fortitude.
The fourth virtue named by the Greeks is self-control. Self-control is the ability to govern ourselves. It enables you to control our temper, regulate your sensual appetites and passions, and pursue even legitimate pleasures in moderation. It is the power to resist temptation. It enables you to wait and to delay gratification in the service of higher and distant goals. ‘Either we rule our desires, or our desires rule us’.
The fifth essential virtue is Love. Love goes beyond justice; it gives more than fairness requires. Love is the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of another. A whole cluster of important Human virtues – compassion, service, kindness, generosity, empathy, loyalty, patriotism and forgiveness – make up the virtue of love. ‘Love – selfless Love that expects nothing back – is the most powerful force in the universe. Its impact on both the giver and the receiver is incalculable.’ Love is a demanding virtue.
A positive attitude is a sixth essential virtue. If you have a negative attitude in life, you are a burden to yourself and others. If you have a positive attitude, you ’are an asset to yourself and others. The character strengths of hope, enthusiasm, flexibility, and a sense of humor are all part of a positive attitude. All of us, young and old, need to be reminded that our attitude is something we choose.
Old-fashioned hard work is the seventh indispensable virtue. There is no substitute in life for work. ‘I challenge you to show me one single solitary individual who achieved his or her own personal greatness without lots of hard work.’ Hard work includes initiative, diligence, goal-setting, and resourcefulness.
The eighth essential virtue is integrity. Integrity is adhering to moral principle, being faithful to moral conscience, keeping our word, and standing up for what we believe. To have integrity is to be whole, so what we say and do in different situations is consistent rather than contradictory. Integrity is different from honesty, which tells the truth to others. Integrity is telling the truth to oneself. ‘The most dangerous form of deception, is self-deception.’ Self-deception enables us to do whatever we wish and find a reason to justify our actions.
Gratitude is a ninth essential virtue. Gratitude, like Love, is not a feeling but an act of the will. We choose to be thankful, just as we choose to love. Gratitude has been described as the secret of a happy life. It reminds us that we all drink from wells we did not dig. It moves us to count our everyday blessings.
Humility, the final essential virtue, can be considered the foundation of the whole moral life. Humility is necessary for the acquisition of the other virtues because it makes us aware of our imperfections and leads us to try to become a better person. ‘Half the harm that is done in the world is due to people who want to feel important.’ Without humility we keep all our defects; they are only crusted over with pride, which conceals them from ourselves.
The key to character growth in life is simply the humble willingness to change.