On virtues with a small "v" and a big "V"
All writing advice advises the writer to share the truth.
When you are stuck - the advice goes - write one truthful sentence. Then, write another truthful sentence - and another, and another. Before you know it, you will have paragraphs of good, truthful writing.
Good writing - measured by truth telling - is an extension of being a good human.
It starts from childhood.
We teach our children to tell the truth and to not lie, to be cautious and not neglectful, to be kind and not angry.
We teach our children these good virtues in hopes that they will become upstanding citizens.
But, the truth is: our children will learn these virtues with or without us. Why? Because these virtues are ubiquitous and common. Our children will learn these virtues - if not from us, then from others around them.
Now, there are other virtues - Virtues, with a capital “V” - that our children will not learn on their own.
These big Virtues are what will differentiate the good from the Great.
In my opinion, the most important Virtue (capital “V”) that we can teach today is courage: courage to speak truth. This is different from the small “v” virtue of telling the truth and not lying - no, this is the courage to dig and dig and dig until you excavate the truth. This is the courage to acquire knowledge - to have a desire to be and to know.
What then? What do you do with the newly discovered truth? Well, of course, you have to share it, but, you can’t just share it in any old way. (Stay tuned, I’ll return to this point in just a moment).
Next on the short-list of important Virtues, I believe, is humbleness. When you start excavating truth, you start possessing knowledge that others don’t have. It then feels instinctual to shout your truth from the rooftop - like a mad person. Don’t do this.
Don’t be an asshole. Stay humble.
Instead of shouting and kicking and screaming and belittling others who are less “wise”, contemplate how you will communicate your truth to others. Help others see what you see. Paint a proverbial picture for them.
Be a guide instead of a mad scientist professor type.
Lastly, remember that everyone is at a different stage in their journey, so be gentle.
This post was inspired by Natalia Ginzburg’s essay Little Virtues. It’s a very insightful read. I highly recommend it :-)
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