God can be defined in many ways. For the sake of this discussion, let’s say there is a God, or a God-like force, with a plan for mankind, or at least a hope for how the future of the planet might unfold. Even if you are an atheist, the primary message offered here should not be adverse to your way of thinking. Reason suggests that if such a plan of a higher intelligence exists, it might involve mankind learning and practicing virtues.
Some people associate virtues with religion, but that is not entirely correct. Virtues include traits for achieving material success, such as determination, orderliness, self-discipline, foresight, learning and enthusiasm. Interpersonal virtues, often taught in a faith-based context, such as friendliness, kindness, courtesy, respect, tact and trust, can also have a significant influence on one’s chances for financial success.
I occasionally ask people in a tactful way how many virtues they think there are. I have been surprised that many are completely dumbfounded by the question. Yet, if you give it some thought, the level of suffering or joy in the world is directly related to how well virtues are understood and practiced. It starts at the micro level of how individuals practice virtues in their daily lives, and continues to the macro level of how governments and the global economy function.
Just as individuals learn virtues by experience, the planet as a whole is subject to virtue lessons. We learn both individually and collectively that fully practicing virtues brings success and happiness, and neglecting them brings sorrow. If that does not seem true for you, the key phrase is “fully practicing.” Also, it may be a question of timing before the final result, positive or negative, unfolds.
One planetary lesson currently being learned relates to the virtue of moderation. Some people argue that God represents abundance, implying that there is no need to be concerned about the availability of resources. However, if moderation is to be learned, the lesson plan may include achieving an awareness that waste, excess and a lack of foresight have consequences. Yes, practicing joyfulness is a virtue, but it need not be dependent on unbridled materialism.
Lessons of moderation are often tied into lessons of humility, fairness and compassion. Acquiring wealth for status may indicate imbalanced humility and a failure to discern the balance required for fairness to future generations. Unenlightened wealth can sometimes show a lack of compassion toward those who do not have the natural abilities, upbringing or simply the good fortune to find a path to high earnings. One goal of the virtue-balanced individual is to provide service with excellence. If wealth results, he or she recognizes the responsibilities that it brings.
It is usually difficult for adults to change their habits. It may take some people many years of therapy to rebalance a single virtue, such as replacing a tendency toward anger with peacefulness. Imagine how much harder it is to raise the norm of good conduct of the planet as a whole. How do you put the world on a path that both the religious and non-religious might agree is an ideal one, and that a higher intelligence, if it exists, would want for mankind?
Each person who awakens to virtue consciousness pushes the norm of good conduct and the chances for planetary sustainability higher. When there are signs of a planet in peril, one solution that warrants greater consideration is effective character education programs in school systems internationally. At the current virtue level of the planet, relying on parents alone to set the norm for the next few, critical generations may not be enough to create the upward trend in responsible conduct required to save the planet.
A call to action is necessary to stimulate optimism for the development of effective character education programs in schools worldwide. Perhaps in the process of debating what traits of good character should be included in such programs, more parents will awaken to an understanding of the virtues that will determine the fate of the planet.