“Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening.”
I hope you have found some value from the life-lessons I shared. These are the principles that I will instill in the family that I will make in the future. Now, I want to switch gears and move from personal stuff to something more universal. As we have previously defined, a good life is a life of virtue so let’s do it: let’s talk about virtues.
At first glance, the science of virtue may sound like a complicated topic to discuss. It’s not. We must not avoid meditating about sophisticated matters and feel intimidated by their seeming complexity. Instead, we must cultivate the taste for philosophy from a young age.
In adulthood, some of us start to look down on children thinking that they are not smart enough to grasp complex concepts. Many adults oftentimes use condescending “baby talk” with children but it does nothing but lower their intelligence. Such an approach is an erroneous and dangerous way of educating youth.
I taught 11-year-old kids and I must say that at that age they are already perfectly capable of understanding advanced concepts that are currently included in the undergraduate curriculum: things like the concepts of energy, light, photons, atoms, molecules, and matter.
Children are smart. By any means, they aren’t civilized but their minds are certainly bright and gifted. I realized that when it comes to intelligence by setting up the bar higher than our own expectations, we elevate those we teach, by doing that we maximize their capacity to excel.
We must not hesitate to educate children to learn and apply practical philosophical concepts. What we think may be too perplexing for a young mind can be conceived if you bring it within their reach. We must only succeed in finding the right words.
I believe that the mindset of a virtuous life is something that should be inculcated as a compulsory part of primary education because the years of elementary school is precisely the time when the core of a personality solidifies. The science of virtue must sink in almost to the level of subconsciousness if we want to bring up new generations who will strive for ultimate goodness and living a righteous life. But before that happens, we ourselves must become virtuous.
So how can one live a life of virtue? Here are the 3 steps I propose.
Step 1. Revise your vocabulary.
What is your definition of a “good person”? What meaning do you confine inside this term? Your definitions of very basic notions may be precise or dodgy. Let me give you an example. A simple question:
What is a “friend”?
Most people start to elaborate on long explanations. They try to find appropriate words, introduce life examples and situations. The more eloquent they are, the more it becomes apparent that they have never given it a proper thought. Deducing a definition that would be concise and on point takes time. Now, how can a belief system be effective when it consists of blurry terms?
My definition of the word “friend” is quite straightforward:
A friend is someone who is taking care of you.
To clarify what “to take care” means, this definition could be further expanded:
A friend is someone who is sacrificing his own resource for the sake of yours.
By resource, I mean primarily time and money which are, of course, essentially equivalent since they are both interconvertible.
That is my example of an effective definition. Your objective is to crystallize your own. Design your personal set of definitions including the definition of a “good person”. You have to find what works effectively personally for you. It goes without saying that your definitions must be based on common sense, not some distorted subjective interpretation of it.
Here are some examples of such definitions:
A good man is a man of virtue.
A virtue is a spiritual value that reinforces the behavior that maximizes the chance of living a meaningful life.
My understanding of a virtuous life could also be presented as a set of definitions. A virtuous life contains:
- A family — a group of people who love and support each other through good and bad times.
- A true friend (the word that we have just defined).
- A Mission — a way of providing service to others that facilitates living a wealthy life.
- A wealthy person — it is not the one who has a lot of money, but the one who has enough.
- Enough money — money that is sufficient to cover expenses for food and shelter for the family, personal growth, traveling, and work on the realization of the Mission without distractions.
I could continue with the list, but the point of this section is not to inflict my opinions on you. My goal is to inspire you to revise and maybe recreate from scratch the system of definitions that will make you a more effective human being.
Step 2. The Ten Virtues
As we have just come up with a definition of virtue, we can take a closer look at what kind of virtues are there.
If you have a religious background you already understand how religion helps you control yourself and prevent the behavior that may lead to adverse consequences. If you are not following a particular religion, then we might be alike. I am not religious but I believe.
For my further discussion, I will try to stay away from the theological aspect of religion, rather I would prefer to focus on the practicality of it. In order to do that I will use the following definition of religion:
Religion is a belief system that reinforces a certain behavior in an individual that helps that individual to live a virtuous life simultaneously realizing the distribution of the ultimate good.
Let me explain what I mean by “the distribution of the ultimate good.” The term “virtuous life” implies that a religious person lives his life being guided by certain spiritual values. He first experiences the benefits of those values at the individual level and then instills them in his family so that his children could also elevate themselves and live a meaningful life.
From his family, his values propagate further to his community, then to the city, country, and finally to the level of the whole of humanity. As a result, the universal good distributes itself in a pyramid-like system. Everyone on the planet is able to reap the benefit from the same universal belief system that, very importantly, can even be cultivated in a not very educated person. That is the function of religion.
My Dad is an atheist and he raised us as ones but he often said that the Ten Commandments is everything a man needs to live a virtuous life. It made me think. I took a closer look at the Ten Commandments and derived the Ten Virtues that I think those commandments represent. I believe that these 10 spiritual values are instrumental in the distribution of the ultimate good.
1. I am the Lord your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.
I worded this commandment more simply. I would call it a virtue of
Faith is a strong belief in the righteousness of the things that are commonly known as right. Having faith is the most important virtue, as the absence of faith makes all other virtues futile. It doesn’t matter if you have a religion or not. If you do not have a deep conviction that the right things are right you won’t bother implementing any of them in your life.
The famous Heath Ledger’s Joker is an example of the ultimate distortion of faith. Joker has adopted a belief system that for a normal person would seem psychotic. He had no faith in the things that most people consider good by default and as a result, he transformed into “a man who wants to watch the world burn”. Everyone is mesmerized by Joker’s charisma on screen, but no one wants to face one in real life. People without faith in good are dangerous and destructive.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
To address this one, I had to look up the source material. Here is what the Bible says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” [ John 1:1]
Bible says that God is the Word. If you think about it, a Word is indeed a Creator. You can use it as a weapon or you can use it to inspire. It can be used to kill love or it can be used to invigorate it. The Word is all-powerful but it isn’t all-good. Its potency depends on its user. Thus, my understanding of this commandment is: “You shall not use the words in vain”. Which brings me to the second virtue:
Benjamin Franklin in his book writes about three “filters of speech” a virtuous person must use whenever he speaks. Before vocalizing his thoughts, one must first make sure that what he is about to say is true, useful, and pleasant to a listener. In the age when the world sinks in constant noise and senseless chatter, we should be mindful of the words we say and the way we say them.
But what is more important, silence is not just a virtue to maintain our relationships. Sitting in silence with your eyes closed will teach you more about yourself than a thousand books and a hundred teachers. Silence is our greatest guru. It is only when the mind remains silent that the divine within steps in to speak to us. God dwells inside of every living being. The door to him isn’t locked but it can only be found in quietude.
3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
This commandment states that a virtuous man must allocate a day in a week to dedicate himself to religious observance and abstinence from work. I would interpret this commandment into the following virtue:
We all might be too busy caught up in our daily tasks to take the whole day off to think about God and to ask ourselves questions such as “Who am I?”, “What am I making of my life?”, “What is my life purpose?” but it is definitely possible to dedicate a small part of the day to take time and focus on spiritual growth.
We live in a time of fascinating technological progress but the challenges that it brought us are just as fascinating. One of the most dangerous challenges that humanity has already started to experience is the crisis of meaning. More and more people can’t formulate their life purpose and the deterioration of the sense of meaning became virtually endemic.
We must take full responsibility for the development of a solid personal philosophy that will guide us to a clear understanding of who we are and what we are doing on this planet. The transcendence of the planetary consciousness starts at the individual level. It starts with you.
4. Honor your Father and your Mother.
This commandment I would interpret as:
RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY
People create and innovate by working in collaboration. It became very clear that we can’t work together effectively if we don’t build hierarchical structures. Rigid management hierarchy has proven to be the most practical way to organize labor, but in order for it to work, it must be founded on respect.
A respectful attitude toward the positions above, as well as an ability to command respect to subordinates, come from family. It is in the family that we acquire basic interpersonal skills and become aware of how social systems work. The family is the elemental unit of society and this is where the sense of respect must be educated.
Reverence teaches you how to be a lifelong student and seek mentors in anything you do. It teaches you how to work hard, do your job well, and stay humble. It opens you up to knowledge. And that is why it is a virtue.
5. You shall not kill.
People kill because they lose control blinded by rage and jealousy. Fear is what breeds conflicts. This commandment is a manifestation of the virtue of:
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama writes about kindness: “The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge, but it is essential if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one’s existence, to have a good heart.”
I used to gravitate toward intellectual people. I thought that a great intellect implies kindness by default. It was naive of me to believe that all clever men eventually come to the conclusion that being kind and compassionate is the only intelligent way of living.
I was wrong. Many mighty minds that I had a chance to touch have failed to deduce it. I soon discerned what was the reason for such failure: the unfortunate adverse side-effect of a high IQ is an overinflated ego.
The greatest enemy of a massive intellect is its own ability. The smarter is a person the more sophisticated he is in producing convincing logical justifications for all behaviors and beliefs that suit his interests. Intellectuals are more prone to self-deception for an obvious reason: it is much harder to dispel the illusion that is complex and deeply entrenched.
Intelligence is no longer the top quality that I look for when I meet new people. When I meet new people, I seek a good heart. As Dalai Lama put it: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
6. You shall not commit adultery.
Roughly speaking, adultery is a betrayal. A betrayal magnified to the scale of a country is treason. Civilization will fall if it is sabotaged from the inside hence any form of betrayal must be blocked from gathering momentum when the impulse to betray is at its weakest i.e. at a level of an individual mind. This can be accomplished by inculcating the virtue of:
Loyalty is a sense of duty is what keeps good men in order. It is an ever-present feeling that there is something bigger than you, a feeling that there is someone out there to look up to.
Staying faithful to things you hold dear, the ability to resist the temptation to indulge in momentary pleasure and risk ruining what you have been building for years — this is the quality that helps you to keep on building on without interruptions and eventually achieve more in life.
7. You shall not steal.
The act of stealing itself is the effect; the cause of it is the excessive desire that rises when one can’t get enough. The ability to control your desires can be encompassed within a virtue of:
Abstinence, temperance, frugality, minimalism — choose the form of this virtue that you like best. The point is, learning how to extinguish your desires when they are small, staying away from excessiveness will contribute to the sense of meaning. And that is the ultimate goal of any sensible person.
People fall into gluttony, seek consolation in alcohol and drugs, spend money on stuff they don’t need, lose themselves in compulsive sexual behavior. All these activities can’t fill the void inside, they do nothing but further desolate the soul: satiation without satisfaction.
Asceticism appreciated by ancient cynics might be too extreme for most people to practice but the moderation preached by their descendants stoics is an invaluable tool for someone in pursuit of a good fortune in a world of ever-growing materialism.
8. You shall not bear false witness.
In the past, the language had to be simplified so that common people could understand the commandments. The function of this particular commandment was to reinforce justice and emphasize the importance of treating each other in an honest way.
Wording changes, principles of human interaction remain the same. Integrity is what wins over people. A strong spine is what earns respect. Honesty with yourself and others is the key to life mastery. These principles build up a personal creed that serves as a tool of fulfilling your destiny.
I would restate this commandment in one word:
If a personal creed doesn’t contain this virtue as a component, the whole life philosophy of an individual will be incomplete leading to repetitive failures in multiple areas of life.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
In the past, this commandment prevented people from conflicts on grounds of jealousy. People needed a rule from the supreme authority to follow so that the community did not self-annihilate. In today’s age of “free love”, “friends with benefits” and “no strings attached” relationships, in the age of the high-speed Internet that delivers one-click-away porn, this commandment transformed becoming the virtue of:
Sigmund Freud has claimed that sexual desire is the most fundamental motivation. Freud himself made a decision to stay chaste telling his wife that they can no longer engage in sexual relations. His personal experience and self-observation led him to the conclusion that sexual activity is incompatible with accomplishing any great work particularly in psychotherapy which he himself chose as a destiny. Chastity is the moderation in sex, abstinence from porn and masturbation, control of sexual desires and channeling sexual energy into a creative one. Chastity is a self-discipline and self-control.
Freud understood that chastity is a key element in the life of a virtuous man.
“The virtuous man contents himself with dreaming that which the wicked man does in actual life.”
~ Sigmund Freud
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
By “goods”, we shouldn’t understand only material objects. Skills and talents that other people possess are also things that one can desire. A virtuous person understands that the superiority in a particular skill someone has should not be a subject for jealousy but instead should evoke respect and admiration. A virtuous person inculcates:
Understand humility. Study it. Learn from those who in some sense possibly have achieved more than you. Share the knowledge with those who are at the beginning of the way you already walked.
A virtuous man knows that he never walked other people’s paths in their shoes and hence shall not judge anyone. He eradicates the slightest traces of jealousy when he notices them. He is humble because he is aware that he knows nothing.
Step 3. Deploy.
Okay, let’s recap. We have just walked through 10 virtues:
RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY
10 virtues — 10 fingers. Easy to remember.
These 10 virtues are enough to implement to be called a good person and live a good life. All we need to do is to grow in strength to commit to them. These virtues should dictate our daily activities and govern our regime. They should define the way we position ourselves in this world and the way we respond to the challenges we face in life.
These 10 virtues are the lighthouse that will guide you when the storm comes. Stay fierce in the biggest fight of your life — the fight for your own soul. Help other souls in their fights along the way. You can become someone you were always destined to be — the Warrior of the Light.
“Do not explain your philosophy. Embody it.”