The Vital Virtues

As I was sorting through the papers on my desk, I came across a letter that I had written to the members and attenders of Cincinnati Friends Meeting dated March 1, 2020. In essence it said that because of COVID-19, we were appointing an Ad Hoc Public Health Committee, and that we would be closing the meetinghouse for the next two weeks. As January 2021 comes to a close, the meetinghouse is still not open, and the Ad Hoc Public Health Committee is still active. It has been a very long year.

There is, however, light on the horizon. Although the initial rollout has been difficult, the vaccine is being distributed. Elizabeth and I have registered to receive our shots, but we have not yet been given a date. I know that others within our Meeting community have registered, and some have already received vaccinations. For all of this we can be grateful. It gives us hope for better and healthier days to come.

Along with the hope of the vaccine, there is a new administration in Washington, DC. There is always a sense of hopefulness when a president is inaugurated, but the hope is especially strong with the inauguration of President Biden. My hope is for the recovery of certain virtues which we have celebrated in the past, but which in recent years have been on the decline. The vitality of our society depends on their recovery.

The first virtue is courage. The recovery of courage within each of us and our nation means standing for what is right without being self-righteous. It means telling the truth and standing for the truth amidst lies and disinformation. Courage means being hopeful even when it is hoping against hope.

A second virtue is competence. This is the ability to think reflectively on how to deal with the complexities of the problems we face. It means trusting science and the academic community, and providing persons with a philosophy of life which ethically undergirds all of their actions.

A third virtue is civility. Simple things like expressing gratitude and saying please is a beginning. Respecting one another, listening to one another, and recognizing that we are not only individuals, but individuals who are members of a society, is the beginning of the renewal of civility in our corporate life together.

A fourth virtue is conscience. To lie to consumers, to accept money for work not done, to game the system for your personal advantage at the expense of others, and to be sloppy in your work, having no pride or passion for what you are doing, is to participate in the loss of conscience in ourselves and in our nation.

A fifth virtue is compassion. The writer and former Roman Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong, has written that compassion is the one element that we can find in all of the major religions. Such compassion means to "suffer with" those who are suffering, and to have our own souls ache each time that a cruelty is done to another. With Camelot we would do well to seek within ourselves and our nation the truth that compassion is not weakness and violence is not strength. As President Biden said in his inaugural address, "We should not lead by the example of our power, but by the power of our example." Compassion needs to be a part of our example.

And so a new year is upon us, and a new administration comes to Washington. As we seek to renew ourselves and our country, may God give us the strength to recover courage, competence, civility, conscience and compassion within ourselves, and within our corporate soul as a nation.

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