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- How to Win Friends and Influence People
Each character in Star Wars can be analyzed by looking at how much or how little of each classical virtue he has. I am going to limit myself to the first movie (by first I mean 1977 release, not the chronological first- confusing isn’t it?) I’ll look at two characters, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.
Luke the Evolving Hero
Han the Complete Hero
In the U.S. this must take the form of Democrats working with Republicans. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of our recent polarizing climate is that many on both sides now seem to value ideological purity more than they do the country as a whole. Politics, always an endevour synonymous with a contact sport has seemingly become nothing more than sport to a large number of its participants.
Neither political party holds the high ground right now either. The Democrats, united by their dislike of former President Bush have solidified into an ultra-liberal, semi-socialistic party. For their part, the Republicans have become so afraid of the Tea Party faction that they dare not do anything that even has the faint glimmer of moderation.
The solution comes back to what this project is all about- virtue. The stunning lack of which is best illustrated by looking at the recent failure of the grand compromise on the debt ceiling. For those who have not been following the debate, here is the issue in a nutshell.
Administration officials say the country needs to raise its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling to stop a default on loan obligations, and Republicans want spending cuts in order for them to cooperate. Obama says that in return, he wants new taxes to combine with the cuts to reduce the debt by $4 trillion over the next 10-12 years.
The taxes he has in mind are of course the much talked about Bush tax cuts for those making over $250k. Obama and Speaker Boehner were basically in agreement. This was the opportunity to do something truly big and far reaching. Hell, by the end of their golf-outing negotiations Obama was even willing to put entitlements on the cutting block.
Think about that for a minute, for raising taxes on those who could probably handle it anyway, the GOP was going to be able to take a huge bite out of government spending. To think that we could dig our way out of this debt hole without any pain is folly ~ this was as good a deal as either side was likely to get. Trillions in cuts and modest tax raises.
Then the rank and file on both sides shot it down. No way can we cut into Medicare! NO new taxes!
So, how does virtue come into play you ask?
Neither party, apparently aside from the president and speaker, had the fortitude, or courage, to do what was prudent, or necessary. Now I will admit I have no insider knowledge here. Maybe there were others willing to put aside short term political gain and do what clearly needs to be done for the nation as a whole. But if so, they have not been very vocal. And the leaders of each party, Obama and Boehner, have to take the blame for that as well. Leaders can only be leaders if people are willing to follow them.
The point remains that until we have people of strength, men and women of virtue in places of power, we will continue to simple play games with our collective future. Real democracy needs real political skill. Something to think long and hard about as we enter the next election cycle.
The most comprehensive and well-researched anthology of all time comprises both the 50-volume “5-foot shelf of books” and the the 20-volume Shelf of Fiction. Together they cover every major literary figure, philosopher, religion, folklore and historical subject through the twentieth century.n 1910, Dr. Charles W. Eliot, then President of Harvard University, put together an extraordinary library of “all the books needed for a real education.”
I am a teacher. I understand the value of learning the “3 R’s”. I believe all sorts of schooling scenarios can work: public school, private school, home school or even guided independent study. A lot depends on the teacher and the type of student(s) involved. However, I also know that there are things even more important than the basics of reading, writing and computational skills.
And character is not as easy to quantify, teach or assess. Many schools institute a type of values education, but this is often just an add-on to an already over-crowded curriculum. The teachers resent having one more topic to cover and the kids sense their ambivalence. Not a recipe for success, which is why these programs never seem to go the distance. They pop up only to disappear once the teacher or administrator who spearheaded the program moves on to something else. At the same time we are learning more and more about just how important character is in determining the quality of your life.
Your character can be defined as how well you abide by the four classical virtues, one of which, Temperance has been in the news lately. Back in the early 1970‘s Stanford did a study to see if four-year-old kids had an innate sense of temperance, or self-control. They put a child alone in a room with a marshmallow. They were free to eat it, but if they could resist for a set amount of time they would receive two marshmallows. Turns out, some kids were better at this than others. The finding were an interesting curiosity at the time, but decades later the follow up data has made news once again.
Scientist Terrie Moffitt and her colleagues found that self-control has a pervasive and powerful effect on the arc of a life.
Even adjusting for IQ and economic background, children who were more adept at self-control went on to lead better lives. They were healthier, less likely to abuse drugs, more likely to save, less likely to be convicted of a crime, and the list goes on. These “good choices’’ not only benefit the individuals who make them, but their friends, family — even taxpayers.
What makes Moffitt’s discovery of such great public consequence is another surprise. Self-control is like a muscle. It is not just something that one is born with, but something that can be strengthened through regular exercise. Equally important, everyone can benefit. Moffitt found that, no matter the starting point, any improvement in self-control meant brighter prospects, and steps down portended trouble.
While it is always nice to have scientific back-up, the fact that virtue takes practice is hardly new. Over 2,000 years ago Aristotle said that excellence, or virtue of character was a habit more than anything else. We need to constantly exercise our self-control over small things if we ever expect it to “work” when the big temptations of life come along. Many religions instinctively realize this, hence the self-limiting disciplines- no meat on Fridays or set times for prayer. It is not that these specific practices need to have a dogmatic relevance; it is that they help train your self-control muscles as it were.
This is where the tricky part comes in to play. We currently live in a culture that values instant gratification. Self-control is almost looked at as a vice, rather than a virtue in many cases. How many parents give their children everything they could want, and do so out of sincere love, only to be stripping them of the opportunity to train the temperance muscle.
The same goes for adults, myself included. One of the unforeseen benefits of the hard economic times we are currently facing in much of the western world is the drying up of readily available credit. Most of us can not simply whip out the plastic and make spontaneous purchases anymore. But this is a good thing. Part of being human is dealing with lack. It is unnatural to live in a perpetual state of plenty. Just watch one of those lottery-ruined-my-life shows to see how having everything soon leads to nothing.
Self-control, Temperance, a classical virtue that is being thrust, unwelcome, upon many of us could be just the training we need in a 21st century world. Which brings us back to schools. How do we incorporate true character education? Again, they best society has come up with is often based in or around religion, therefore religious schools have the best track record here. Is there a way to bring this to a secular public school setting? This is a topic I will be exploring in the future and I welcome any thoughts below in the comment section.
Which of us lives on twenty-four hours a day? And when I say “lives,” I do not mean exists, nor “muddles through.” Which of us is free from that uneasy feeling that the “great spending departments” of his daily life are not managed as they ought to be?
We like in a culture that feeds on itself. We build people and organizations up simply to tear them back down. Little attention do we devote to our own moral development. without each doing his part the whole of society can not improve. Does this sound like the current state of affairs in the modern western world?
The state being a perfect one must exhibit in itself the four cardinal virtues. Not that every one of its citizens must exhibit them perfectly, but the philosophical rulers present prudence, courageous standing-army courage, the well-conducted populace and craftsman temperance. The remaining virtue justice, the virtue of the whole, the principle and cause of the existence of the other three, compelling each portion of the state to keep it own business, and to abstain from all interference with the affairs of the other portions.- Plato’s Republic, Book 4
The question is: how do we get there from here? As the U.S. moves into yet another divisive election season we could benefit from some attention to a basic civic virtue.