The relationship and the difference between virtues and values is fairly intuitive: values are those things that we want and cherish, and virtues are those attributes in us that help propel us toward those things we value. In this blog, I will offer some opinions and insight into how we can use our unique virtues and values to negotiate our often-challenging social relationships in this era of partisanship, lack of shame, and everyone opining about everything, anywhere.
It’s a very common scenario nowadays for anyone who is in contact with family, friends, and/or others on social media (i.e., everyone) – you can’t help but argue. Though you want to have peaceful and fulfilling relationships, differences of opinion on politics, religion, or personal issues can easily stymie the positive vibes that really should be the heart of one’s relationships. Thanksgiving dinners can be fraught with difficulty, Facebook friends can be “unfriended”, and one can find oneself thinking or obsessing about what went wrong with others in their last interaction.
It’s as though the differences we have with others is like a sore on the roof of our mouth we can’t help ourselves from tonguing. We can miss what is positive, what we have in common, and what social relationships are really for.
“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within the reach of every hand.”
Virtues and values are not synonymous, but are surely related. As well, they can help us to navigate the dangerous waters that seem to mark our social relationships nowadays.
Imagine a scenario where you get into it with your friend about “red state/blue state” issues such as the merit of the president, the veracity of news sources, or the “trying triad”: God, guns, and gays, as it were. Don’t get my family and me started on any number of issues, vaccines being our hottest “hot-button issue”.
Virtues and values are your goal and your means. In other words: isolate the value or values, and use your virtue or virtues to achieve the goal.
Let’s say you’re a blue guy and you’re getting some static in an interaction with a red guy. You’re getting a cup of coffee and you hear someone say: “What are they going to have four bathrooms in the near future: men, women, transgender, and no gender?!” Hardy har har. There are three strategies:
“The final frontier may be human relationships, one person to another.”
One, according to Bill Maher (and I quote): shut the fuck up. As this clip shows, he lightheartedly and perhaps wisely suggests we not engage in political talk with others, but, as we did once upon a time, consider those beliefs private. Here is how a writer on Grabien characterizes the very entertaining last segment of Maher’s “New Rules”:
“Let’s stop talking politics to each other,” Maher said during his final show of the season. “Everyone these days says the way to bridge our frightful partisan divide is to talk to each other… It never works.”
Then after pointing out that talking politics used to be considered impolite, he gave this advice for bridging the partisan divide: “Shut the f*ck up!”
Here is another clip that speaks volumes: Maher gave an example he knows well because he has seen how folks cling to and are willing to part with religious and political beliefs: “Over the years, hundreds of people came to me and said,” ‘I saw Religulous and now I’m an atheist.’ Nobody ever comes up to me and says, ‘I watch in Real Time every week, and now I am a liberal.’ They will turn on God, but not on Trump. That sect is serious.”
But seriously, a second route is available to you that will utilize your unique virtues and values. If your value is peaceful relationships, use your virtue of tolerance or respect. That is, say to yourself, “I value my relationship with [this person] and I want to have tranquil and comfortable interactions, so I should tolerate and respect their political stance on the topic in question.”
“The stronger he makes his idols, the poorer he becomes and the emptier he feels. Instead of joy, he seeks thrills; instead of life, he loves a mechanized world of gadgets; instead of growth, he seeks wealth; instead of being, he is interested in having and using.”
There is a difference between accepting viewpoints or agreeing with someone, and being respectful and willing to be calm and rational in the face of what feels like a perplexing position (in the other person). Politician Bernie Sanders, talk show hosts such as Norm Macdonald, and virtually any Canadian citizen (!) are pretty good at letting you have your opinion, and they can have theirs, and it doesn’t need to mean World War III. In an era of Donald Trump, Joel Osteen, and the 24-hour news cycle, this is a big deal.
Virtues and values are the spice of life, and your virtues can lubricate social tension. You’ve heard that a sense of humor is a wonderful asset, or a smile can disarm others almost magically. “Patience is a virtue” is the English language’s most common reference to the word virtue. Originally, in Greek the word virtue meant excellence. Now it is more akin to merit or character. Any of those ideas can help one achieve one’s value or values in a given situation.
If you value social dominance or being right, you’re not going to have a particularly good chance of getting along with others who have virtually any difference from yourself. Even members of one’s political or religious tribe are not going to be carbon copies of oneself. Essentially, if you have certain values and virtues, one is going to get on with others like oil and water.
“Love your neighbor, but do not visit every day.”
This is why Donald Trump makes enemies and gives people “cold pricklies” wherever he goes: if he turns off the superficial charm and acts like himself, he is off-putting or downright outrageous. He didn’t develop the virtues needed to succeed in politics (or probably in any area of life, save perhaps for business, where character matters only somewhat) and his values are bass-ackward and morally opprobrious.
If we could take a magic wand to Trump’s fetid and shriveled soul, though, we could replace self-concern with a more balanced and ethical stance. Love would edge out shame, and concern for the other would take the place of his current narcissism. If he valued knowledge and wisdom, he could use his somewhat-developed virtue of industriousness to progress in many ways. Trump’s cleverness and humor don’t have to leave a slew of victims in his wake as is currently the case. He is akin to a tragic character: we see where he is headed but he cannot stop himself; his selfish values are going to lead inevitably to his tragic demise, eventually.
If you want happiness, use your virtues to propel you. This means (to me) that you must have a code, and it should be a good and meritorious one (this is of course arguable). The proverbial term “biting your tongue” is a way of characterizing how one can use self-control and self-awareness to avoid saying something that will offend or create unwanted distance. As my mom tried to instill in me, not everything that comes to my mind is something I should say out loud. Opinions are just that – opinions.
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”
This is the Confucian way. It has also been said that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar; assuming you want to have a bunch of flies, sweetness will be your friend. A Confucian proverb counself “Never use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead.” Good advice in any culture, at any time.
My mother used to always urge me to “be sweet” when I was a kid. She was suggesting that if I were polite and charming and kind (my virtues), I would be better-received in my social interactions, and thus be more likely to get what I want (my values). She was suggesting a link between my virtues and values and it is a tried-and-true method. This is also the Southern way, for better or for worse. If it doesn’t veer off into disingenuousness and triteness, superficiality can be a virtue.
We needn’t be victims of fate; we can know our virtues and values and make them align to get what we want and be morally-upstanding in the process. Ω
Here is a similar blog about values: