Many people ask, what are virtues? There’s nothing new about love, nothing original about justice. Virtue is defined as spirit, power, capacity, strength. Virtues are the content of our character. From a spiritual perspective, they are the qualities of our souls, the ways we mirror the attributes of God, and reflect the Divine image.
Aristotle, a philosopher in ancient Greece, taught that moral virtue is excellence of character -- the disposition to act excellently. All the sacred texts of the world’s religions describe virtue as the very meaning and purpose of existence.
In the Tanach of Judaism and the Old Testament, it says: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?.. He has told you, O mortal, what is required of you. Only to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6: 6-9. In the New Testament, Colossians 3: 12-14 says: “… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive as the Lord forgave you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” That perfect unity extends to all faiths in their upholding of virtue as all that matters. In the writings of the Baha’i Faith, the question of “Why are we here?” is answered, “We are here to acquire the virtues of the Kingdom,” and “I have ordained every atom in existence for Thy training.” This life is a school for our souls, and virtues are the lessons.
I once asked a large audience if anyone could define virtue. A six-year-old raised her hand and I called on her. She gave one of the best definitions I ever heard. “Virtues are what’s good about us.” At a First Nations Virtues Project conference in Saskatchewan, t-shirts and jackets were emblazoned with “Virtues: the Good Within” in the Cree language.
One of my favorite quotes is from His Holiness, The Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Think about it. When are you truly happy? When you do something kind for others. When your consideration to an elder or a child gives them a smile. When you give your very best to a job and feel the satisfaction of true excellence. When you call on your virtue of creativity to craft a TiVaiVai or compose a piece of music.
We all lose our way at one time or another in life. We sin. We stray from what we know is right. We shame ourselves. Remember the prodigal son. Redemption is sweet once we realise there is always a way back to what we know in our hearts is right. When we make a mistake, we can view it as a teachable moment, humbly make amends, and learn the lesson. A wise man was once asked by a man with a violent and dishonest life, “I want to be good, but how can God ever forgive me after the terrible things I’ve done?” The sage answered, “God is the ever-forgiving.” “How will I know when I’m forgiven?” “When you don’t do those things anymore.”
We all have it in us to be good – to be kind, patient, self-disciplined, respectful, courageous, righteous, and compassionate. Yet, virtues don’t appear by chance. They grow strong as a muscle does -- by being used. Every time we choose to practice a virtue, it grows stronger. You have everything you need to be truly happy.