Alain de Botton’s ten Virtues have raised an important point. See, I think the notion of a rigid virtue system is pointless because it creates a rigid notion of what makes a person “good” and when we know that’s not the case. You may have all these “virtues” but still be bad for the world. Having these so called virtues may not make you a force for good.
Let’s take the Taliban. Do you think that the Taliban don’t smile? They don’t love their kids? They don’t joke with each other? Do you think that they are cowards?
They are human just like us and many have these virtues. Yet it is their actions that decide whether they are virtuous or not (to borrow a phrase).
Rather than say what I think is wrong with Alain de Botton’s list, I prefer to say what I think is important to us. But here is the thing. What I think is important and what is important are entirely different things. What you think is important may be equally different. This is what I value and what I think is important. I am sure you have your own such list. These are just some ideas that I think are important.
In keeping with the Ten rule let’s stick to that number.
1. Perseverance -
A lot of things in life are difficult. A lot of things in life are hard. Some of the best things in life are hard.
Do not give up, but do ask for help. There is climbing Everest and there is climbing Everest with a friend for company. You don’t have to suffer alone and in silence. Don’t just throw your hands up in the air and give up doing something if it gets hard. There are times when you are alone and scared and lonely but you can still “win” and that requires perseverance and fighting to the end.
2. Challenge Yourself
Don’t say no to a new experience. Give it a try. You will be surprised and you will find something new. If you don’t like an experience (I always say try something at least twice, the first time may just be terrible because something went wrong) the worst you can say is that you have tried it and didn’t like it rather than condemn it off hand.
This does mean you end up eating some pretty weird things, but it’s better than not eating them. You live for experiences and denying yourself an experience is a poor way to live.
Push Your Boundaries, You Will Be Surprised By What You Can Do. Don’t just give up without trying (see 1.)
It doesn’t mean “just accept” the way things are. It means to be willing to wait to get the things you want. To be willing to try and explain to others the things that are important. To realise that change doesn’t occur in an instant and to not throw your toys out of the pram at the slightest hint of things not going your way.
We live in an age of instant gratification and so when we do need to show patience we often lack it.
We cannot have everything we desire. Sometimes we need to learn to compromise on certain things.
This doesn’t mean that we should compromise on things that are important. Remember all these are concepts and aren’t hard or fast rules. That we should use our discernment in how we apply these concepts.
A lot of mistakes are made when you act on impulse. And indeed sometimes you do have to act on impulse alone. But when possible think your actions through and do so when calm. This is less a virtue and more a good state to be able to drop into when making decisions because a calm mind helps make objective decisions better.
Being polite doesn’t mean keeping quiet. Being polite means being courteous to those around you and thinking a little bit about what your actions mean to the people you interact with.
There are some people it’s very hard to be polite around. And there are some people who “being polite” to involves standing up to. If a person is waving a “God Hates Abortion” sign outside a clinic then what is the polite response? Is it more polite to just walk away or is it polite to stand up and voice your opinion and try to keep the people who go to the clinic safe from harassment?
These are decisions to make based on your idea of what “polite” means. Being polite also means being able to separate your unbelief from your actions. You may work with someone who believes in a god. You can say no without being rude if they try and involve you in their activities. (Eg. I am sorry, I don’t believe in any gods and it isn’t for me. RATHER than Fuck Your God!). It’s fun to be virulently atheist on the internet but IRL you do have to be sensible about what you say because religion is a strongly held belief and what you say may hurt someone’s feelings and indeed entrench their opinion about us. Learning when to be outspoken and when to be diplomatic is a feat in itself but there are no right answers to that.
7. Learn to Handle Failure
Failure is common, we fail more than we succeed.
We live in a world where we loathe to teach children to fail. I do think we have created a generation of privilege who refuse to accept any failure and this ill prepares them for life.
There are winners and there are losers and our kids can do better if they learn that loss isn’t something to be ashamed off. That we should learn from mistakes rather than try to create a system where no mistakes can happen. But that means watching our kids fail and helping them when they do fail.
Help your fellow man because there is no one else out there to help them. Help yourself first but if you can help someone do so. Sometimes charity can be just words, sometimes it’s money and sometimes it is time.
Give what you can. And charity doesn’t mean Medicin Sans Frontier only. It can also mean listening to an upset stranger. Charity is helping your fellow man.
And please don’t “compare” charities or else you just end up saying that giving money to a sick person isn’t as valid as giving money to a sick person in a third world nation. By which logic we should throw Make A Wish under a bus because there are dying kids out there who are more interested in “Make A Proper Meal”.
Charity Top Trumps doesn’t work. Do what you can for what you believe in but think before you dedicate yourself to charity.
Do I need to explain? Life can be funny even when it’s being sad. And you would be surprised how universal a smile is.
Never ever stop being curious about the world because there is ALWAYS something new to learn. There is always another viewpoint and another experience to have. And each of these teach us something. You are never too old or too rich or too smart or too educated to learn something new. We don’t know everything and we cannot know everything, but we can learn about a lot of it to enrich our view of the world.
Otherwise you will forever live without knowing what the most common genetic disorder is despite the answer being right on our faces. Curiosity has driven humanity and curiosity and the thirst for knowledge is the most important “Virtue” for any atheist.
As I have repeatedly said… these are just what I think is important. These are the ideas that I value and the ones that I feel are important to aspire to for me.
Because that’s the difference between a virtue and a suggestion. You not having these traits doesn’t make you a bad atheist. It just means you don’t see the same things that I value as important