Do you ever think about the different virtues of your character? It might seem like a strange question to ask, but it’s also kind of cool to think about. It can be a great process towards understanding more about who you are within a bubble of gratitude.
It’s not often that our virtues have attention drawn to them During a speech (wedding, birthday, awards ceremony etc) someone might talk about aspects of your character that are recognised and appreciated. Or else in your eulogy. After the fact. I overheard someone on leaving a funeral recently say “it’s a shame we wait until people die before we say nice things about them”.
I read a passage in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations last week that really struck me. Within it he goes through different family-members and friends (and people he’s encountered throughout his life), and pairs them with a particular virtue or characteristic. Aspects he has taken on, both through natural instinct and his nurture and formation.
The world has become quick to point fingers at others for things when we’re not happy about some part of ourselves. We’ve all become pseudo-psychotherapists, searching childhood experiences so we have something or someone to blame for our self-diagnosed conditions and neuroses. And while there may well be certain truths in the lasting impact of early experiences, it’s worth remembering that we are all flawed and there’s no such thing as a perfect upbringing.
For the most part, our parents and those involved in our lives growing up were doing the very best they could…like we are for the next generation. It’s just kind of hard.
The Other Side of Blame
I was struck by the flip side of this finger pointing, which Marcus Aurelius exemplifies beautifully.
Being thankful and recognising the particular people who have touched your life with their own virtues and characteristics.
Have you ever thought about the virtues that make you who you are? It might feel a bit uncomfortable, like this is some kind of ego-stroking exercise. It’s not. Rather it is the formation of acceptance, acknowledgement, and gratitude to those people who have influenced and crafted you. It is also a great reminder that no matter how old you are, you can still learn from other people. Your character is ever evolving and changing in response to the people around you.
Gratitude is the antidote to bitterness and resentment. No matter what has happened in the past, there are always things to appreciate and be thankful for. Give your virtues back to those people that helped form them in your life:
1. Consider Your Virtues (positive characteristics)
How do people describe you? What part do you play in social situations? For example you might be kind, hospitable, caring, thorough, someone who pays attention to detail, inclusive, interested, friendly, gentle, energetic, peaceful, patient, reliable, someone of integrity, funny, creative.
Shift your thinking so that it’s a celebration of other people’s impact and legacy in your life. These are characteristics that you value as important, as well as traits that you might demonstrate.
2. Identify the Source
Maybe you’ve identified “hospitality” as one of your virtues. Where did that come from? Who set the standard and example for you so that it became baked into your own values?
Marcus Aurelius puts it like this:
Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion.
Of my mother I have learned to be religious, and bountiful; and to forbear, not only to do, but to intend any evil; to content myself with a spare diet, and to fly all such excess as is incidental to great wealth.
3. Write it Down
It can be helpful to write this in past tense, as if you’re looking back on the life of each person.
You’re not claiming yourself as a master of virtue. Rather it’s an exercise of recognising your values, and ultimately the kind of impact you would like to pass onto others.
- Of (person’s name) I have learned to be hospitable and patient
- She taught me: that the kettle should always be filled with water and ready to make a cup of tea when someone needs to talk; that there’s no such thing as “too busy” when someone requires help; not to be offended by anyone else’s freedom of speech, and to have conversations in order to understand and empathise with all people, no matter their history
4. Notice What Happens When You Reflect
The act of writing down the virtues of others is pretty cool. I don’t know about you, but it makes me really appreciate the people to whom I’m handing back the characteristics that I possess/value. My Grandad’s sense of humour, and joy of creative solitude, my Mum’s gentleness and heart to care, my Dad’s wisdom and courage to be a public figure whilst maintaining humility, integrity, and privacy.
5. Make a Habit of it
Use what you write to guide your thoughts and self-reflections. Keep writing about the virtues of others who have had an impact on who you are. Consider the virtues and values that you want to cultivate in the future. Who is an example of that in your life? What can you learn from them?
When you focus on the values and virtues of people in your life, it helps you to realise that extraordinary people are not “out there”, living somewhere else. They’re all around you. They brought you up, they made you who you are. You just need to remember to acknowledge what it is that you have taken for granted until now.
When I read that passage I found it such an inspiration. I hope you get something out of it too.
Over to You
What virtue have you been given, and who have you got to thank for influencing that part of your character? Please leave your response in the comments below.