On Being Virtuous

Main Entry: vir·tu·ous
Pronunciation: \ˈvər-chə-wəs, ˈvərch-wəs\
Function: adjective
Date: 14th century
1 : potent, efficacious
2 a : having or exhibiting virtue b : morally excellent : righteous

3 : chaste

Websters’ definition above sounds as though it might be on the edge of extinction. Using words like moral and righteous just don’t seem to fit into the current vernacular. It certainly doesn’t seem to fit with the trends in social or political thought.

When I was growing up (go ahead and groan), the standards of behavior were still rooted very much in the traditions and values of my parents’ generation, reflecting how they had been brought up. There was a genuine respect and reverence for the dignity of the individual, and an acceptance of certain behaviors that showed a recognition of the value of civilized interaction.

Now, at the risk of sounding very much like my parents, I fear for the generations that are the product of my own. As much as I love the romance and creativity of my youth and the era of the 60’s with all of it’s drama and art, consciousness and dialogue, the standards that were broken down are missed.

Add to that the pervasiveness of technology as a replacement for reading and self-awareness and you have not only dysfunction and illiteracy at record rates, you have millions of youth who simply don’t care.

Watching life through the lense or on a big screen has created an insular environment in which nothing is real. I cringe at the reality of my cousins’ death in Vietnam from the gun of a sniper as I listen to a game being played in the next room. The pop of the guns and the tactics to win are all contingent on the skill of the virtual sniper that the gameplayer has become. That’s obscene to me. I object. There is no virtue in this.

How is that a generation or two of American youth don’t know anything about the 19th or 20th century? They find Mark Twain boring, and Jane Austen only palatable for the duration of a 90 minute dramatization of her timeless works. The literature of these types of authors portray a sensibility and sensitivity to us that offer us lessons on observing and respecting people and their situations. In many ways, they speak to the need for compassion and understanding.  When I saw the movie The Count of Monte Cristo (several years ago) I was shocked to observe the interpretation of this classic piece of literature.  There was so little connection to the original that it might as well have been renamed. And, most importantly, the “moral”, so to speak, of the story was lost. Vengeance is not the answer, and you don’t get a reward for your wrath.  No one got the message because it wasn’t included in the film.  So much for learning from the past. 

For all of the advancements that have been made technologically, we have lost the soul of imagination and creativity that comes from reading, and thinking independently. While it’s likely that eye/hand coordination has improved due to video games, where is the soul of the individual and the search for meaning? When do kids gain understanding?   

 Am I wrong? Maybe my assessment is incorrect. But, still, something is missing from a culture that turns it’s back on the contributions of the past.  If virtue and righteousness are consigned to merely religious thought, being viewed only from the distance provided by ridicule and compromise, then how do we teach love, or inclusion?  How do people learn to accept without prejudice, if they haven’t learned themselves what righteousness is, since it is rooted in love? It  appears that the bold new world of the 21st century is going to be brazen, perhaps, but not bold.  Boldness, that which comes from a courageous and inventive generation,  comes from the actions of informed and creative participants.  Life is not encompassed in a controller. You don’t have the option of playing it again when the time runs out or you reset it.  It is necessary to know what came before, and to thoughtfully consider what may yet appear.         

 My parents told me stories of their era, and it helped me to recognize the world around as it changed and forged ahead. I’m sure we rolled our eyes periodically, but somehow it all remained intact, a real entity in my life and those of my friends.  Vietnam was more horrible to us because our parents had fought in the wars that forged history.  We honestly didn’t see a path to anything good, and the loss of life shocked and saddened us deeply. There was a sense of morality among us, recognizing and abhoring the actions of politicians who sat cozily in their offices while sending the youth of America to a blood soaked country, all in the pursuit of …we didn’t know the answer to that.      

 Maybe what I’m missing in this young millineum is passion.  The kind of passion that commits to a cause beyond us, reaching for something so great and wonderful that it will stir a nation or change society.  There is an irony to having participated, in some degree, to that passionate search of the 60’s.  The hunger for change and liberty became transfixed into a license for moral abandon and less liberty to those who were engulfed in the abyss of addiction.    

Perhaps that is part of the history we should recite now.  Because within it, there are answers to how it can be done better.  Creativity, searching and independent inquiry from the perspective of the informed will lead to broader horizons on every level.   

Technology is one type of answer.  But, it will not help us if we are bankrupt in our souls.


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