For a long time, I struggled to answer the questions who I am, what I want to become, and what I need to get there. I knew I wanted to become successful, and then, success to me meant having a huge salary, living a fast life, and not caring about the rest of the world. To get this, I surmised that all I needed was to pass my exams by whatever means so that when I finally landed a job, I would climb the corporate ladder astronomically. I envisioned myself as a successful CEO, with a booklet for a resume due to my achievements and values in the business world. However, I had a paradigm shift and discovered that the kind of success I yearned for was not necessarily what I required. I reevaluated my life views and realized that I needed more than financial success to be truly happy. I realized that I had to develop a set of virtues to act like my life’s blueprints to not only conform to my Christian faith but also to gain real happiness and success. Like me, many people misconstrue the real significance of virtues, deeming themselves virtuous merely because they have all the trappings of “success” and subsequently having a superficial self-esteem.
To begin with, virtues are acquired human qualities that mold character or habits that make it possible for people to achieve personal happiness (Layman, 2007). From this definition, it is apparent that virtue is something good and admirable. Concisely, virtue ethics promote character development rather than stipulate the rules that ought to govern how people behave or the consequences of their actions. They help define people as either good or bad. A virtuous person not only performs good and honorable acts but goes ahead to give his or her best in whichever circumstance. The individual does not act due to impulses or desires and urges but is guided by values and principles no matter the personal cost of doing the right thing. Subsequently, virtuous people live their lives consistent with life-enhancing value systems and never compromise their virtues for lower order expediency. Nonetheless, it is a journey that to succeed in one requires not only a strong will but also a support system. In contrast, disposition or character trait that harms oneself or others is referred to as a vice. Boss (2013) asserts that vices always stand in people’s way in their quest to achieve success and happiness. Therefore, in the long run, such people may suffer shame and sadness, thus diminishing the value of material success.
According to Boss (2013), most people misunderstand virtues by primarily regarding them in terms “character” and “goodness” rather than a “source of fulfillment and joy”. Many philosophers assert that virtue should not only be a moral compass but should ingrain inner harmony and happiness. This psychological disposition is referred to as eudaimonia by Aristotle and surpasses what the utilitarian factions refer to as happiness. For instance, in my case, a force sense of self-esteem brought about by amassing wealth and being seemingly successful would be termed as happiness by many. However, this does not fulfill my function as a human being, that is eliminating misery from others and myself, and therefore, my psych and soul would not be in peace. Subsequently, individual happiness would be elusive and hence affect group happiness in the long haul. This is because if many people veiled intentions for their actions, the virtue system would be endangered leading to moral emptiness.
It is worth noting that in assessing virtues, morally good actions do not necessarily become virtuous. This is because, for instance, being a successful CEO, I can decide to give millions to charity to evade paying taxes. Therefore, in as much as giving to charity is a noble and morally right action, the intention behind it is impure. In addition, I may become happy since many people may laud my kind gesture, but self-examination would certainly rule out my action as honorable. The utilitarianism school of thought encourages the development of a virtue for it promotes happiness. However, it is paramount to scrutinize each action for underlying intentions or dispositions since though it may be beneficial, virtue may not inform it. In essence, virtue is deeper than the total of a person’s actions and their consequences (Boss, 2013). Nonetheless, it is paramount to examine if morality is culturally relative or if it is universal for the whole world.
Despite sociological relativism, most virtues are universal and constant. In fact, there are more similarities than differences among different cultures on various virtues. Boss (2013) exemplifies this assertion by looking into the values revered by the Navaho. According to Clyde Kluckholn, honesty, courteousness, loyalty, self-control, amity, and peacefulness are important virtues among them. Boss (2013) asserts that they are not peculiar because they are all desirable qualities for human beings and hence universal. Universality notwithstanding, however, different cultures will stress on some values more than on others. For some people, the traditional Christian virtues such as humility, self-sacrifice, and equality are greatly misunderstood. Nietzsche opined that some people who lack courage, personal resolve, and power would say they are virtuous yet their actions perpetuate abuse and hence interfere with happiness (Boss, 2013). Like Nietzsche, Karl Marx argued that some virtues which organized religion like Christianity only lead to destructive societies and subsequently lack of moral character among people. However, as an African American Christian, I do not agree with Nietzsche and Marx’s sentiments.
According to Briggs (2015), several surveys and studies have indicated that black Americans mostly observe religious practices and beliefs. He asserts that results from recent research showed that compared to whites, African Americans ranked higher on being humble, compassionate to strangers, offering emotional and tangible support, and being grateful to God. Over and above that, it is clear that most African Americans read the Bible widely and hence have a personal relationship with God (Layman, 2007). In this regard, Christians like myself understand that being moral and virtuous always pay back in the long run, it may not be here on earth but even beyond life on earth. Being virtuous helps to rid of sin and hence be closer to God (Layman, 2007). In addition, perfect serenity and happiness are found in executing God’s will. Furthermore, a higher moral reasoning aids people to make righteous decisions and subsequently to solve ethical dilemmas (Boss, 2013).
My virtue system, after the paradigm shift, has given me total eudaimonia. I now understand what excellence means to me, and hence, I do my best in every situation. Honesty and integrity are some of the virtues that I did not have regard for in the past but are now the cornerstones of my being. I now have fruitful and meaningful relationships, and even with or without money, I can say that I am at peace and happy.
Boss, J.A. (2013). Ethics for life: A text with readings (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Layman, C. S. (2007). Letters to boubting Thomas: A case for the existence of God. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Briggs, D. (2015, April 29). Are black Americans the most religious — and virtuous — of all? The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-briggs/are-black-americans-the-m_b_6769296.htm
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