Cultivating Character and Excellence

“Character is the total of thousands of small daily strivings to live up to the best that is in us. Character is the final decision to reject whatever is demeaning to oneself or to others and with confidence and honesty to choose the right.”
~ Arthur Trudeau

Cultivating ‘virtue’ can seem like a very old-fashioned concept, but there are many very good reasons to take a fresh look.

More updated, clear, and inclusive words — and thus more effective ones — would include character, skillfulness, and excellence.

So, for the sake of clarity and effectiveness, let’s define ‘the virtues’ as some of those skills, attributes, or ways of being that help us to cultivate and demonstrate excellence, skillfulness, and refined character.

Why might it be beneficial to look anew at ‘the virtues’ and incorporate them into our regular practice? The reasons are myriad, and clues can be found in the average news headlines: greed, conflict, violence, injustice, scandal, ethics violations. This list could be longer.

Indeed, these unfortunate, costly, and non-admirable actions and ‘effects’ that we read and hear about can be matched up fairly well to the ‘vices’ that stand opposite the ‘virtues’!

But in order to choose to have a more positive, less harmful ‘effect’ through your decisions, thinking, and behaviors, the cultivation of virtue has to be a personal, inside-affair. “With your thoughts you make the world” – Gautama Buddha.

Cultivating virtue becomes, then, a spiritual or mastery path, resulting not only in a greater degree of excellence and skillfulness, and a higher, finer caliber of character, but it also lends a sense of meaning and purpose to one’s life — indeed, one’s average day!

And in some traditions, by cultivating virtues and ‘higher behaviors’, we negate or minimize ‘bad karma’ — the more unfortunate or ‘negative’ effects of previous actions, thoughts, and words.

Surely, any of these, much less all of these, offer excellent reasoning for cultivating the finer aspects of our potentials, don’t you think? And it can actually be enjoyable, and feel very meaningful, to do so.

In this way, each of us becomes a leader to higher potentials, just by our way of being — something that relies not upon job title, socioeconomic status, inclusion or exclusion status, or formalities.

For those in formal leadership positions — which is a privilege and sacred duty — cultivating and demonstrating excellence, character, and skillfulness is a requirement: a toll, if you will, for the privilege of that position.

By practicing virtues — or the ways of excellence, skillfulness, and good character — you increase not only your own sense of meaning and confidence, but also distinguish yourself within your organization, and as a leader and business.

Exploring vice and virtue through inquiry and dialogue

What are some of the vices and their corresponding virtues? Here is a list that draws from a variety of spiritual and philosophical traditions:

VICE

Greed

Arrogance, Pride

Excess

Lying, Dishonesty

Judgmentalism, Intolerance

Laziness

Envy, Harshness

Gossip, Malicious Speech

Anger, Impatience

Volatility

Tyranny

Telling, Dictating

Cowardice

Giving up Easily

Injustice, Unfairness

Crudeness, Sloppiness

VIRTUE

Generosity

Humility

Moderation

Honesty, Integrity

Compassion, Tolerance

Right Effort / Action

Kindness

Right Speech, Kind Speech

Patience

Equanimity, Calmness

Participatory

Inquiring, Dialogue

Courage

Perseverance, Fortitude

Justice, Fairness

Good manners, Refinement

There are no doubt others that could be added to this list, and in fact there are several wonderful ‘virtue cultivation’ guides available online, such as The Virtue Project and the truly wonderful Season of Nonviolence & Positive Action’s “64 Ways in 64 Days” program.

For now, using the list above as a reflection-catalyst or dialogue-starter, journal or discuss how each of these vices and their corresponding virtues ‘shows up’ in your own ‘programming’, way of being, interactions, and organizations.

One thing to remember is that, while many of these ‘virtues’ have been traditionally seen through a partial lens of ‘rational’ thinking, we are most effective when we consider them through a more complete, holistic — whole – istic — mind-body-spirit lens.

For example, while someone might feel or appear lazy, lacking in will, or hostile, the root of those manifestations may be in a biochemical imbalances rather than thought alone. Thinking in this way helps to prevent over-simplification and leads us towards more positive outcomes.

Dialogue-Sparkers:

Which is these vices would be most beneficial for you to ‘over-write’ by cultivating the corresponding ‘virtue’?

Using the popular workshop exercise, which of these ‘words’ would you want associated with you in your obituary?

The ripple effects can be significant either way, so the question is, what would you prefer your ripple effect, or legacy, be — from vice, or virtue?

© 2007 – 2014, Jamie Walters. All rights reserved.

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