If we want young people to take right and wrong seriously, there is an indispensable condition: they must be in the presence of adults who take right and wrong seriously.
Only in this way will they see that virtue is not just a game, not just talk, but rather that it is something that adults, people who have responsibilities in the world and at home, take seriously. To be a morally good person takes more than wishing to be good or having the right values. It takes a solid character that has the strength to will what is right, not just value what is good.
We can’t be men and women of God; in other words, we can’t be virtuous, without constant effort and the grace of God. The virtues give us the blueprint for being authentically human – reflecting the image of God in ourselves.
Virtues can be thought of as the building blocks of character, and without them, our moral lives will eventually collapse under the pressures of the world and we will fall short of our proper destiny.
There is a difference between knowing about virtues and being virtuous. Becoming virtuous is about developing good habits over and over again. Having good values is laudable goal, but the battle of morality is not so much about knowing what is right as it is doing what is right. The difference between wanting to do good and actually doing good is tremendous.
The power of virtue is that it reverses the inclination towards doing bad, and by strength of habit, inclines us toward the good.
Why the study of Virtues for students?
We know of the society we live in. We know that living in this society there are advantages and disadvantages. The future in which students will live in will not be a result of our living, but rather the fruit of the living of our children. Thus, within our children, we are creating their future and we are reminded that the natural inclination of intelligence is to search for truth and that the natural inclination of the will is to do good.
A person educated with a firm and well balanced, responsible and loyal, prudent, simple, and sincere will is more apt to accomplish their mission and become that which he/she seeks to become.
In today’s schools, there are teachers who are great at teaching math, science and the like, but it is much more important to find a teacher who will explain what friendship is or what generosity, responsibility and loyalty are. These are virtues that we know, teach and that we practice so that they may become a part of who our children are.
If these virtues become part of who our young people are, without their full understanding of what they mean, their lives will become less authentic. This is the reason why teachers must embrace the teaching of virtues.
We often think about values rather than virtues. We speak of these terms interchangeably. Values can be seen as ethical principles while virtues are ways of being. Thus virtues are those ways of being that regulate our acts, order our passions and guide our reason and faith.
The natural place for the learning of virtues is the family and the school. Additionally, there are certain sensitive periods in children where some virtues are better set to be developed than other periods. In high school these virtues are: friendship, respect, loyalty, simplicity, prudence and soberness.
The Three Strategies of Studying Virtues
The three strategies of studying Virtues help us to live more reverent, purposeful lives. They allow us to raise children of integrity and compassion, develop a culture of character in our schools, and inspire excellence and service in the workplace. These strategies build the foundation for safe and caring communities.
Strategy 1: Speak the Language of the Virtues
Language shapes character. The way we speak, and the words we use, have great power to discourage or to inspire. The language of virtues helps us to replace shaming and blaming with personal responsibility and respect. It is a frame of reference for bringing out the best in children and ourselves. It helps us to become the kind of people we want to be.
Strategy 2: Recognize Teachable Moments
Recognizing the gifts and life lessons in our daily challenges helps us to cultivate character in ourselves and others. When we have the humility and confidence to learn from our mistakes, every stumbling block becomes a stepping stone.
Strategy 3: Set Clear Boundaries
Virtues-based boundaries focus on respect, restorative justice and reparation to create a climate of peace and safety. Personal boundaries help us to build healthy relationships and protect our time, our energy and our health.