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What is a Virtue?
From Wikipedia: “A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong.”
“Right and Wrong” aside, a virtue is a principle that we value. It is something that we strive for. Icons throughout history have bestowed humanity with various virtues, to be used as guides for living well. The Ten Commandments are virtues, as are the Catholic’s Seven Virtues, and the many virtues of philosophers, thinkers, and leaders provide us with clarity in our value-based goals.
To live according to virtues is itself a service. Ben Franklin adopted and tracked his own 13 virtues out of a sense of duty to himself and others.
And Service itself contains virtues to help it along.
This page will serve your pursuit of meaning through service by outlining some guiding principles for living in service.
We also discuss altruism, especially in terms of its lifetime development, on our Development of Service page.
Being of Help
“For it is in giving that we receive.” — Saint Francis of Assisi
Even though it seems intuitive, being a Good Samaritan is harder than you think. But studies show that our health is directly tethered to how much we help others. We experience personal growth and happiness if we help others. Ultimately, you can lead a more productive, happier and more meaningful life.
But where do we begin? First off, find what you’re passionate about. Secondly, give more of your time and talent to others. And third, find a purposeful organization, company or place of work with integrity.
This article helps us understand the generational gap with regards to technology use and how this affects connectedness. Generation C have mastered technological tools that help leverage connection and success in the 21st century, rather than isolation. Generation C is open to change. Instead of the “but-this-is-how-we’ve-always-done- its” they embrace a “what-if-we-did-it-this-way” approach.
Companies need to figure out how to get on board with this Generation C’s technological capabilities and how they find meaning in connection and communication across platforms.
Ask Specifics, In Service to Others
In a conversation with someone you know and love, or even with a stranger, you may think about a best way to help said person out. But doing something of help from your perspective may not be the best thing to do in the end for another. The trick here is to ask someone “How can I help you with this?” or “How can I be of service to you?” Do your best to understand what may be helpful to another person.
Give Well-Intentioned Feedback
Feedback can go a long way. It validates and informs others of a job well done.
Recognizing people’s performances and praising them directly rather than correcting a job poorly executed. We too often forget to give well-intentioned feedback, which is of help not only to you as a gift of awareness, but to another’s journey as well.
“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy
Altruism is a practice of selfless concern for wellbeing of others. People every day practice altruism in service to others. They do this not out of duty or loyalty, much like Red Cross volunteers allocating aid to hurricane victims. Or protesting a piece of legislation in service to those who may not have a voice in society.
Indeed, altruistic deeds are neurologically beneficial to us. Our reward and pleasure centers light up when we act selflessly in service to others. When we help others, some theorize that feelings of empathy and compassion play a major role with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of others.
The Indian tradition of selfless service is seva in Sanskrit. This means that we do good in the world for others without any expectation of something in return. This word is part of a long path toward self development.
When we weigh against the cost to ourselves and still do something on another’s behalf, this is selflessness. We are programmed, in a way, to cooperate at first and to give to others for a common good. From a young age, toddlers are willing to help others based on a genuine care and concern for others. Evolutionary biologists have continued to be puzzled over the years because it makes no sense why someone would be self-sacrificial, risking the extinction of their genes. For example, in the U.S. Army, selfless service is one of the seven core values. There is no expectation of gratitude even with the ultimate sacrifice of a soldier dying to protect others or their country. It’s hard to reconcile something like this.
“Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us.” – Ram Dass
World-renowned psychologist Philip Zimbardo has explored the nature of good and evil in his experiments over the years. That showed us, in a remarkably unsettling way, our human capacity to be evil, or the “Lucifer Effect.” Yet, after years of research and experiments, it led him to start a movement at the Heroic Imagination Project. Here he offers ways to be an everyday hero. Can we teach such a thing? Zimbardo argues that anyone can have this capacity if the right conditions are met.
And so it goes. We have our scientific perspective, and that of our religion and faith. A timeless dichotomy. Yet, there are those working to bridge this enduring gap of our capacity to be good. The Dalai Lama’s growing movement at The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education brings an understanding of how the worlds of psychology and neuroscience overlap. Scientists, physicians, religious leaders and psychologists have been able to study how people make altruistic decisions.
“If your love is only a will to possess, it’s not love.” ―Thích Nhất Hạnh
We are drawn to others who practice selflessness and generosity. Devote yourself to working toward solutions for problems in the world. And let us live in the pursuit of justice, happiness and the growth of all.
You may remember the small red trolley that rolled through the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Where we visited Daniel Striped Tiger and X the Owl at the Great Oak Tree. Or got mail from Mr. McFeely. He told us about when he saw the scary things in the news, his mother would tell him to “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
This was Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. And not often is a television program so able to offer us something so human and pivotal to childhood: how to love and be kind.
Fred Rogers spent his life creating a make-believe world of play that taught children that they can love and would be loved. He taught us how to be brave, empathetic, and most importantly, to be kind.
Watch the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
Being kind acts as a mediator for stress and triggers increased levels of oxytocin. This hormone is known to lower blood pressure, offer us sound sleep, and helps with addiction. Even being around acts of kindness offers us doses of this hormone. But love and kindness goes way beyond benefits to our health. Not only was Rogers promoting health in children, he also asserted that kindness has a direct connection to how we nurture our “divine spark”. To some like Rogers, this is a spiritual connection to something beyond our bodies and something more cosmic.
“I like you just the way you are.” – Fred Rogers
“Compassion asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else.” – Karen Armstrong
To have compassion means that we are building a world of mutual respect. The more we care for the happiness of others, the more it returns to us. Our fears, our insecurities, our obstacles, they all melt away if we are to be compassionate to ourselves and others. According to the Dalai Lama, each one of us is able to develop an ability for compassion. He tells us that love and compassion is what brings us ultimate happiness in the end. If we are to be alone, we are less likely to survive without compassion. At some point, we must rely on the sympathy and empathy of others.
Compassion is a major tenet in many religions throughout the world.. The Dalai Lama says that compassion radiates from one individual you affect to another. Buddha once offered that “loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice.” In Judaism there are 13 attributes to compassion, such as showing mercy for those who have transgressed, sinned, or shown anger toward you. Or even Christianity’s Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Dalai Lama also suggests that inter-dependence is one of the basic laws of nature. Each living thing depends on the survival of another. There is a natural pattern of connectedness in the oceans, forests, flowers, and their seasons. If we can learn anything from nature, it’s a level of resilience through inter-dependence. And at the root of that interdependence has, and always will be, love and compassion. Children cannot survive without the care of someone. And the happiness of that child depends on the development of their self-confidence. Then their support is held by teachers, friends, a pet, or one’s community.
But on the ground, what does that entail? Does being compassionate measurably affect the ways in which we treat others? Paul Condon, a contemplative psychologist, and other researchers found that meditation can help you become more compassionate and mindful, which in turn helps others increase their compassion as well. These practices can also improve cognition and your physical health. And Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us about the benefits of meditation and how compassion elevates your immune system, brain functions, and body.
The Golden Rule, “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you,” means that we must have compassion for everyone, even those we may consider our enemy. In order to move beyond our polarized world, we must make compassion humanity’s centerpiece in our everyday interactions.
“Love, kindness, compassion and tolerance are qualities common to all the great religions, and whether or not we follow any particular religious tradition, the benefits of love and kindness are obvious to anyone.” – Dalai Lama
“Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.” – George Washington
We all want to be treated with respect and kindness. However, between our political environment and our internet trolling culture, it’s becoming far more difficult to experience civility in our day-to-day. Our CEO’s, Hollywood celebrities, and even Presidential candidates model behavior for us. Unfortunately, in turn, uncivil behavior is repeated over and over again.
Civility is defined as polite, respectful and reasonable behavior. In order to do this, there are a few things to keep in mind. Focus on a common good when working with others, as well as the facts rather than opinions. There is also a way to respectfully disagree with others and maintaining an err of openness without being hostile. When giving feedback, offer well-intentioned and productive feedback rather than insulting or discriminating. Practice Nonviolent Communication.
We have an insightful section about Right and Wrong that highlights the relativity of human perception and how to handle it. You can check out those pages by clicking here:
As a young schoolboy at the age of 16, our founding president George Washington gave us 110 touchstones on civility to meet with others. It was called ‘Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” and it was influenced by the Jesuits of the 16th century. Sure, some of them include the following:
- In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.
- If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.
But many of them became touchstones for civil leadership. They not only highlight what simple etiquette meant in Washington’s lifetime, but also the value and ethical responsibilities we carry as a society, such as:
- Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
- When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it.
- Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private.
Bringing us to our current discourse, On Being released their Civil Conversations Project with the intention of offering a “conversation-based, virtues-based resource towards hospitable, trustworthy relationships with and across difference.” They give us a starter guide that incorporates resources that help us create a different kind of conversation. One that works toward listening and engagement with others. As a group, try with some friends and begin to understand the various levels of meaning in civil conversation.
Listening is Love
We sometimes forget to pause on a street corner and stay quiet for a while. Listening has become a commodity in a digital age where everyone is wanting your attention. Listening, true listening, involves a level of patience and wonder. What is it about a nearby bird song? Or midday church bells? Or a stranger’s story on a park bench? Listening helps us to not make assumptions. It helps us not to judge. Let’s be curious and open. So we can listen and be moved by the world.
It’s true, we don’t listen as well anymore. In our digital age, we’ve become terrible listeners, even though we may have become more productive. But there is hope! There are a few simple things you can begin to engage with in your conversations that will help you become a better listener.
First, good listening is not simply being silent when others are talking. It’s about asking questions, which give the other person a sense of discovery for themselves. Remember to be active and engaged when listening.
Listening also offers support to the other person. Good listeners can express a sense of confidence and can hold a safe space for discussion. There is also a quality of cooperation involved in such an interaction. Poor listeners may only address the flaws and errors of the other individual. They prepare themselves for a response to counter the other person’s offering. You can challenge and disagree, but doing it in a civil way that offers well-intentioned help and guidance. In such a way, a good listener makes suggestions in order to offer an opening to possibility. People are more likely to listen to someone’s suggestions if they are trusted as a good listener.
Listening can be viewed as an act of love or even a radical act, especially when giving your full attention. And in that, there is a level of curiosity involved in listening. A good listener can ask a variation of “what’s on your mind?” and will give the storyteller gentle nudges in a positive and transformative direction. They may try to reflect, reframe and validate, utilizing NVC. These are all great tools in gentle pushing in a constructive manner in order for us to be curious about what’s underneath and causing strife. Good listeners often help us clarify feelings and help us understand the forest for the trees.
Dr. Helen Riess offers a take on listening through her E.M.P.A.T.H.Y program. This model helps people promote empathy and highlights the neurological and psychological benefits of active listening. Her work helps to train those in the education, business and medical fields and can be of service to how you listen in the world.
Dedicate your mental resources to hear every word, and try to care about each one of them.
|Eye contact||Helpful unless other is uncomfortable with it|
|Voice tone||Matching voice tone can help build rapport|
|Minimal verbalizing||Speak when there is a pause, and an implicit request. Be comfortable with several seconds of silence before reflecting/validating/reframing/asking a question.
Note that the symbol below does not have speaking as a part of it.
|Clarifying questions||See “Reading Minds”|
|Touch||When implicitly or explicitly invited. Test response.|
Marshall Rosenberg on being present:
Empathy, I would say is presence. Pure presence to what is alive in a person at this moment, bringing nothing in from the past. The more you know a person, the harder empathy is. The more you have studied psychology, the harder empathy really is. Because you can bring no thinking in from the past. If you surf, you’d be better at empathy because you will have built into your body what it is about. Being present and getting in touch with the energy that is coming through you in the present. It is not a mental understanding.
In empathy, you don’t speak at all. You speak with the eyes. You speak with the body. If you say any words at all, it’s because you are not sure you are with the person. So you may say some words. But the words are not empathy. Empathy is when the other person feels the connection to what’s alive in you.
Ask: W.hy A.m I. T.alking
Before you open your mouth. Check yourself – is what you’re about to say in service to you or to them?
Improv technique turned powerful communication tool, ‘Yes, and…’ is a way of moving through a conversation ensuring that both parties are understanding one another. Each sentence starts with an affirmation of the essence of the previous sentence, pauses to make sure your reflecting landed, and then adds one new piece of information.
1) The ‘yes’ can look like a reflecting of the words, or a reframing of the content… whatever is needed to ensure the other person hears that you are hearing them!
2) You pause after the ‘yes!’ to make sure the other person hears the yes [the nod, say ‘mhm’, something similar).
3) You then add one new piece of information to continue the discussion… remember the ‘one breath rule’ here.
For more, visit our page on the subject from our section on Compassionate Communication.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When you’re encouraging, you’re instilling a sense of courage to others. Encouragement involves pointing out someone’s potential and challenging them to do what they were meant to do. Being encouraging is believing what’s possible, a service to others and offers the world infinite potential to be better. Simon Sinek, world-renowned speaker and thought leader, tells us that motivation can also start with a community by finding a sense of belonging.
Intrinsic motivation can be a puzzling aspect of our personal life. It’s hard to stay encouraged when you just can’t get a win, endless rejection letters in the mail, or your car breaks down. Even the most skilled life coach can’t get us out of bed in the morning.
“What good is it having a belly if there’s no fire in it? Wake up, drink your passion, light a match and get to work.” – Simon Sinek
Tim Ferris interviews some of the most successful, wealthy, high impact and achieving people in the world. He tells us with confidence that it’s possible to have a 4-hour work week. And his take on motivation tells us that it comes down to a few rules:
Tim Ferriss also offers us that procrastination has little to do with laziness and a lot to do with fear. He also wrote a book that clues us into some of the routines of our world’s most outstanding high-performing people.
“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” – Yoda
Procrastination can be a negative element of personal encouragement at all ages and stages of life. Sometimes we view our work as requiring meaningless labor and the thought of finding purposeful work is all but a pipe dream. But what about a different way to think about motivation? What could you discover there?
There are two sides of the motivation coin. How do you encourage others in such a way? Seth Godin offers what we could be motivated by.
“What if each of us were motivated by curiosity instead? Or generosity? Perhaps we could learn to see possibility instead of risk.” – Seth Godin
And what if we could offer that to others as well?
Dan Pink wrote about the surprising truths about motivation from a need for direction in life, to be engrossed in new ways of thinking and creation, and meaningful work. The carrots-and-sticks motivational paradigm didn’t line up with his research. The extrinsic value and punishment models don’t work in our society today. That we desire a sense of self-direction through autonomy. That we are motivated by mastery, the pursuit of bettering oneself and skills. And we all have a deep desire to work and live with purpose.
“It turns out there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” – Dan Pink
Cleanliness and Minimalism
Rooms full of old baseball cards and paperwork. Closets jam packed with clothes, books, shoes, souvenirs. Clutter is rarely in service to anyone. How can we begin to clean up the things in our lives that don’t serve us?
Enter Marie Kondo through your door.
Kondo is a tidying guru. And what Kondo does is much more in service to people’s lives outside of the clutter.
Kondo’s work advocates for a kaizen approach, or little-by-little. With her KonMari Method™, she invites us to tidy by category and not location, i.e. clothes first, then books, papers, komono (or miscellaneous items) and sentimental things. Kondo tells us to only keep the things that spark joy for us.
And the work is transformative. She not only is in service to people’s homes as a cleanliness consultant, but Kondo is in service to the relationships we have with each other. People begin to be more mindful and introspective. Cleanliness tends to become a service to oneself.
Try the KonMari Method™
Step One: Create space
Put all your belongings from the room in a centralized pile. There you can begin to see how much you may hold onto. The next step is just as simple.
Step Two: Choose Joy
Pick up an item and ask yourself, does this spark joy? If not in that moment, donate it! If yes, time to tidy.
Tidy by categories and not location. There are other steps in the KonMari Method. And you can certainly be in service to yourself and those in your life by trying out the KonMari method yourself.
Kondo has inspired a generation of minimalists to seek a more focused, intentional life with the things we hold onto. And in that sense, Kondo gives us the ability to have empathy for what we surround ourselves with. It invites us to consider a life of possibility. A life of wonder because of spaciousness. Kondo allows us to focus on the things that spark joy.
Our lives involve clutter. It simply does. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing. But what if we could reduce the “things” and allow space for the things that matter. The things we wish to pay attention to. A minimalist life.
There is a difference between getting rid of all your things and simply organizing your life so that it works for you. There is good science behind keeping clean and organized as well. There was a study done that showed how people who have cleaner houses tend to be healthier than those with messy ones. Another study showed how women with messier homes had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Even your sleep can be affected by a messy life. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a survey and found that people who made their beds are 19 percent more likely to get restful sleep.
So how do we even begin? Well, with regards to clutter, try donating clothes you haven’t worn in a year. Can’t get rid of that teddy bear? Take a photo of it as a reminder. Or find creative ways to store away these items and get them out of your site. If the excuse is that you don’t have time, do things one at a time. Reserve one day for cleaning and another for organizing. No time for even a weekend of organizing? Do a little each day for ten minutes. Feeling overwhelmed at prioritizing? Try the website Unf*ck Your Habits for ways to break things down into small chores. Chunk it down, people!
The human body is made up of millions of organized biological and physical parts, with connections, circadian rhythms and atoms. So why do we have such a hard time staying organized? Try reading a few of these blogs for some inspiration and tips: Things Neatly Organized, Apartment Therapy, or Unclutterer. Get organized. You’ll be healthier, guaranteed.
If you choose to take it a notch further, try Minimalism, a movement in choosing things that matter and getting rid of the things that don’t serve your life and purpose.
Being reliable is a foundation stone of being. People who are reliable are able to create more meaningful relationships with others because of their trust. You’re patient with flaws in others, consistent with your mood and naturally love others with no conditions. In such a way, you may receive more opportunities if you are reliable. You may receive more responsibility, leadership and opportunities for growth. There also comes a sense of freedom in being reliable. You don’t need supervision. You are more spacious, confident and free when others trust you.
In a romantic relationship, reliability takes the form of consistency as well. To be consistent with another means that you love them so much, enough to continue trying. That you are invested in this person, they are trustworthy, and vice versa.
“Make no mistake of it,” Sinek says. “Trust is a feeling, a distinctly human experience. Simply doing everything that you promised you’re going to does not mean that people will trust you, it just means that you’re reliable. And we all have friends who are total screw ups and yet we still trust them. Trust comes from a sense of common values and belief.”
Reliability takes the form of how you show up for others in your life. In The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, this shows up as the very first cornerstone.
“The first agreement is the most important one and also the most difficult one to honor. It is so important that with just this first agreement you will be able to transcend to the level of existence I call heaven on earth. The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word. It sounds very simple, but it is very, very powerful.” – Don Miguel Ruiz
This relates to our sense of commitment to one another. Do you truly follow through when you say you’re going to do something? Are you flaky? Do you say “yes” too much and honor every commitment you make? Or do you miss the mark sometimes. The important thing to take away is that you strive to be “impeccable with your word” and take responsibility for your actions. And most of all, repeat, repeat, repeat. Be consistent with, well, being consistent! Honor your commitments and intend to follow through.
“All of these old agreements which rule our dream of life are the result of repeating them over and over again. Therefore, to adopt the Four Agreements, you need to put repetition into action. Practicing the new agreements in your life is how your best becomes better. Repetition makes the master.” – Don Miguel Ruiz
Learning to Forgive
You may be familiar with the story of the Two Wolves.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
We’ve all fed the evil wolf. We simply have. Everyone has had a bad thought about another, acted out, and harbored ill feelings about someone else or a situation. We may feel powerless, unable to live in accordance with our values. But the trick is to not get stuck there. The path toward forgiveness begins at the same point each time: understanding that pain is normal, and taking responsibility for yourself. What comes next? Why is it good for us to forgive? Does it make me a better person? And where do I even start?
It’s not one fell swoop. No, it’s a long, long process to forgive. Resentment gets in the way. Bitterness swells. Our ability to be open, wonderous and caring may be incredibly difficult to maintain. We get consumed. It’s in our nature. We realize that we’re not as perfect as we thought. That we are capable of feeling and doing the good, the bad and the ugly. It stings like a cut and stays with us like a scar.
But what forgiveness allows us is the space to move on. To be free. To hold no bad feelings toward another. It releases a memory in which you suffered. It shows us how relationships ebb and flow throughout our lives. And it helps us realize our potential to love.
Visit our section on forgiveness to learn more about the myths, methods, and living with forgiveness.