Commentary on Virtues
Ælflæd of Duckford, unless otherwise noted

From a 1999 e-mail discussion loop, I've pulled much of my commentary and some by those I know won't mind being quoted or revealed to have been a part of that. There were peers of other kingdoms involved then who can't be assumed to want me to publish their small-group comments.  —Ælflæd, 2007

Date: Tue, Mar 23, 1999 2:18 AM EDT
From: SandraDodd

There seems to be no definitive list of virtues (if someone wants to define one that's great), but in my household (represented here by the subset of Aindrea, Balthazar, Cathyn and myself) we've been playing with an ever-growing list of virtues and attributes which I'm just going to throw out here for consideration. I have another post to follow quickly on this concerning honesty, my personal big favorite.

Here's the list some of our household came up with last August at the dinner table:

discretion
honor
charity
hospitality
gentility
chastity
humility
courtesy
compassion
dignity
patience
modesty
honesty
steadfastness
uprightness
forthrightness
truthfulness (those four being the Saxon section )
perseverence
integrity
justice
diligence
vigilance
loyalty
sobriety
franchise
probity (those two added later after AnneAliz reminded us)

Sobriety and chastity as we interpreted them aren't so 19th/20th century as they sound to current-American ears.

A list someone transcribed from a t-shirt she bought at Pennsic (hey—we need to get virtue where we can get it!):
Temperance
Prudence
Honor
Humility
Courtesy
Strength
Hope
Charity
Justice
Faith

Some people have suggested we add something along the lines of courage. Maybe it's covered by strength and perseverence, but maybe not.

This was in a homeschooling context:

Courage in the face of physical danger usually just lasts a few moments, a big burst of adrenaline and it's passed. Courage in the face of social pressure lasts day after week after month after year. That there is REAL courage.

We probably won't get around to discussing them all. I call honesty for starters. If there are others you particularly want us to get to, jump on in.

AElflaed


Date: Tue, Mar 23, 1999 2:18 AM EDT
From: SandraDodd
Subj: VIRTUES—respect and truth

I have begun to learn and am still coming to understand the powerful difference between real, heartfelt, to the core respect and that shallow pantomime of respect which so often has to suffice because it's the best we can give or get. When I find something to respect in another person I increase their value in my own internal universe. When I change the way I look at a person, that new vision of him changes my thoughts and actions. This is as true whether it is my husband or a near stranger. So I've been spending a lot of my extra thinking considering how much attitude affects perception and action.

Compassion and respect have been high on the discussion list at my house for many months. While I don't consider honesty to be a beginners' lesson, I think eventually people build up to the confidence and the need for lack-of-untruth. For me personally, I don't believe that I could show respect for someone and also knowingly be untruthful with them.

I have for some years been writing about homeschooling and to homeschoolers. Lately a long exchange on honesty took place, and I was solicited by some homeschool moms who knew I had an interest in the idea of truth. The best thing that came out of it for me was:

Live so that you AND others can tell the truth about your life.

This has been stuck in my head since I wrote it. It had never fully crystalized inside me that one of the reasons it is usually fairly easy for me to tell the straightforward truth is because I know I intend to do so in advance. I'm more careful with decisions, statements and actions because I know I'm not going to lie to cover them up.

Two of my favorite advisors in the SCA both tell me there's no such thing as "the truth." Given some time they can spin me an illustration of that belief. Okay then. I counter with statements such as (but less polite than) "Perhaps, but there most certainly is such a thing as a big fat lie." [The exact quote, better for my own website than or e-mail to people I didn't personally know, was "Just because there's more than one truth doesn't mean there's no such thing as bullshit."]

One responded:

I've never thought about it, but yeah, I guess there _is_ absolute un-truth, at least as far as the consensus reality is concerned.

"As far as I know," and "It seems to me that" are two of the most valuable phrases in my vocabulary, and I respect you for using them when and how you do.

Here are some other things concerning honesty, just thrown out to filter through whatever you already are thinking and believing about it.

Where not otherwise indicated, the writing below is mine:

Someone paranoid:

But again, you can be truthful and honest and STILL someone will accuse you of being untruthful and dishonest. Believe me, I know.

Well, truthful+accused of untruth > untruthful+rightly accused.

You will eventually find truthfulness leading to faith and trust so that after a few years someone saying "Cindy's being dishonest" would be met by those who know you with the "ARE YOU SMOKIN' CRACK!?" response.

If people give up on truth they're not building their integrity. If they stick to truth regardless of the responses of others, the negative responses of others become smaller and quieter and less likely to be regarded.

It takes time, but it's a good investment that even housewives can afford!

The answer to all these questions is the same, I think, and that is "It depends." Is silence deception? "It depends."

_____________________________

Someone else:

I started out by trying not to talk about others AT ALL; now I'm hedging by trying to decide where the line is!

How will people ever learn or get advice or THINK if they don't talk about their own experiences? And what your friends do to / with / in front of you is part of your experience.

Someone:

I've seen a lot of friendships and some family relationships hurt or destroyed by gossip, and not necessarily malicious gossip either. I've been trying not to talk about anyone else, ever—and it's really hard for me to do.

Were the friendships and family relationships hurt by the telling, or by the thing that was told? This is a serious question I'd like pursued. Because to do evil things and then blame someone else for "telling" is at the very top of the evil list. If I'm a liar and I look in the mirror and see a liar, it's not the mirror's fault.

Perhaps I'm guessing wrong here, but I'm thinking of some cases in my recent real life in which people were angry because someone told the truth about something they had done. Live so that you AND others can tell the truth about your life.

Sandra


Sandra: Live so that you AND others can tell the truth about your life.

Someone else: The problem with this concept is that no one else can tell the *truth* about another's life.

Sandra: Dozens of people tell the truth about my life all the time. Just this morning I was talking with a friend from the other end of Colorado, ten hours away, who runs with lots of same-crowd people in several states. I asked whether she'd heard anything critical about a recent problem. She had heard about it from several sources, all sympathetic, all accurate and all supportive.

Perhaps I'm just lucky to have collected around me many people who are trustworthy and careful and courteous. To say "no one else can tell the *truth*" reflects more on the writer than on people in the world, doesn't it? From my perspective LOTS of people can tell truth. I'm extremely careful to do so in my own life, and so people will trust me with their life's problems because I will not hurt them with the copious amounts of information I have.

[Quoting someone; I don't even remember who:]
If there's a situation to work out, I think it's best to *perhaps* speak with a *very* few trusted, silent confidants for advice, and then go to the person with whom there's a conflict. Anything more is polling and trolling, just for your own personal jollies.

I have never "polled or trolled" for personal jollies. I don't think I'm a freak either. I know lots of people who trust me and others to help them work out problems and conflicts. There's not much jolly involved, but I do it anyway for the satisfaction of making the world better.

Honesty is SO much more than not being a malicious gossip.

[Quoting someone:]
Sandra, what if your truth and others' truth isn't the same? I'm thinking in my own life where something I believe is one way and someone else's is another. So anger erupts because the two truths don't match.

Some things are a matter of opinion (it's cold in here, or that wasn't very nice)

Some are not
          "nobody showed up to help sew" (either they did or they didn't)
          " I was never alone with her" (what if witnesses say different?)
          "we were late because the car broke down"

Stuff like that can be a lie without hope of anyone else's "other truth" making or breaking it.

Sandra Dodd

[A friend of mine named Cheryl:]

When they hear something negative, they offer additional possibilities or remind everyone that they don't have the whole story or urge grace and compassion. I stick with those people like white on rice. I respect and trust them. My dh is like this. In my experience, even when these people are sharing negative personal information about a person or situation, what they say somehow is *not* the same as gossip. There is something qualitatively different about the story when it comes out of their mouths, as opposed to the mouth of someone given over to gossip. It has so much to do with the heart.
Sandra/AElflaed (I say AElflaed because the friends I was talking about were mostly SCA):
This is how my friends are. When they give me details on a breakup it's not to be gleeful, but to be sorrowful and to see whether we can do something to help. There's a compassion about it, or at the very least a summarizing warning so that we can add those things to our lists of situations to consider in future counseling opportunities [or our own relationships].

When women tell detailed birthing stories, it seems like an instinctive need to tell and hear. That's how women learn about the range of possiblilities with births.

There seem to be similar instincts to discuss parent/child dealings, and husband/wife dealings. People tell mother-in-law stories, sometimes with the same sort of "am I the only one?" tone.

There is mean, cackly hateful gossip and then there is the detailed discussion of people who have the compassion, ability and means to make situations better. I know lots of the latter, and I don't associate with many of the former.

Sandra Dodd

Someone:
I think that a certain amount of sharing information about others is really very conducive to supporting friendships. When does it cross the line into gossip? I'm not as confident as Sandra.

What's the intent and what's the effect?
Who's the audience? What's their response?

It seems to me that when there's more compassion in the room than there is any thought of disgust or shaming, then you're still in the good zone. When people are exasperated and just ranting, I start injecting positive statements and trying to up the sympathy, understanding, and solution-finding elements, but more often than not with the crowd I run with we're starting at the solution-finding point, not the criticizing point.

It would be almost impossible to explain clearly in this context, but I have a group of nearly a dozen (more with out of town contacts) who have subtly solved lots of problems at a personal and political level in the SCA (a medieval studies group I've been in seems like forever, 22 years or so). We have LOTS of information about lots of people, and are trusted with lots of confidences in the knowledge that we haven't hurt people with it yet and aren't likely to start now. I'm saying "we" because for years it was just me and a couple of close friends, but now it's broadened out because we have students (apprentices, squires) and if we trust them others will kind of automatically.

Nobody in that extended group gets away with being dishonest or with lacking compassion. Most don't even bother to try it, or they own up to it as soon as they see it in themselves and I rarely ever have to talk to them about it.

That's where I've been for the last few months, heavily involved in writing for those guys instead of you guys!

Sandra


March 22, 1999, back to the unfolding future:

On past using what I've learned in the SCA to benefit my real life, I'm using what I'm learning about learning/teaching in the SCA to teach and to speak about learning/teaching in my homeschooling life (not just with my kids, but speaking at conferences and writing for homeschooling magazines and newsletters). I'm grateful to those who are willing to be my students so I can practice on them.


AnneAliz wrote:

what about franchise and probity? As I recall Cathyn's really like franchise.

Cathyn's later writing on franchise

_________________________________

AElflaed response [to what someone wrote, asking whether the practice of virtue didn't ebb and flow in a person]:

My personal opinion is that this is a sword's edge, in constant need of attention or it will dull - in sharpness and color - and the tools that we use to care for our integrity/our wholeness are those aspects of virtue ... Respect (for ourselves and others) and Honesty (truth within ourselves and without) and so on ...

Thanks for writing this.

Yesterday I was reading from one of the dozen books I have scattered around that I'm working through in erratic fashion (i.e. don't expect me to pass oral exams on any of them), Returning to Silence—Zen Practice in Daily Life by Dainin Katagiri. Sorry for the somewhat-out-of-contextness of it, but in a longer section about impermanence and causation: "That's why we have to come back to this way constantly, doing the same thing Buddha did. Every day we have to come back, a hundred, a thousand, a million times, to the Buddha's teaching. We have to come back again and again to the teaching, without a sense of competition or expectation....We have to grow by ourselves, but we need help."

AElflaed


Date: Fri, Apr 2, 1999 2:34 AM EDT
From: SandraDodd
Subj: VIRTUE and exhaustion
Greetings, friends:

Rough week! There've been lots of glorious moments in a very tiring week'n'a half here during which time I learned (again) that there's no place like home. Portland and the Oregon coast are home to a WHOLE lot of people but not to me.

Giovanni my very favorite correspondent (okay, I'm sucking up to make up for something on another list) wrote: "As for virtues, I sometimes wonder what virtues I (or anyone) holds sacred and true. Even ones I feel are terribly important I have deviated from at one time or another. Perhaps that's growing up. When do we grow up? I just seem to get older ;-)."

I feel guilty for drinking (not that I do it much, but there's the anniversary margarita giggle-fest danger) when I condemn/discourage it in others. Is sobriety a virtue just in alcoholics or in people who can go six months without touching liquor and then indulge? (For me the answer is the ever-irritating "It depends.")

I think "grow up" can be shortened to "grow" and then we don't ever have to stop.

When I get a new idea, some new tool or theory, I'm thrilled. One of my recent acquisitions was the idea that there might be no such thing as a selfless act. If it feels really good to be good, then it's not so totally selfless.

Another recent toy is to use "better" and "worse" instead of "right" and "wrong." I don't always succeed, but it changes my thinking for the better when I do succeed. It's very related to the "make a better choice" tool. It leaves room to accept that even if we do the very best thing we can do, next time we might do even better.

My traditional favorite virtue is truth/honesty/lack of bullshit. I can't stand flat-out dishonesty. Another more recent favorite is compassion—not the Christian definition so much as the Buddhist one. My problem-point comes at trying to accept that some people can't tell when they're being totally dishonest, that their memories or their consciences have a fun-house-mirror effect and it's not their fault. That's more compassion than I have yet been able to generate for more than a short experimental burst. About most things I can be pretty understanding and generous with unlimited chances for improvement, but that dishonesty thing... This I need to work on. I can reach the fourth shelf on being straightforward and truthful. I want everyone else to just reach up there and do it without whining too.

AElflaed

Dongal wrote: "If one drinks responsibly, that is neither virtuous, nor (what is the opposite of virtue?). If, one drinks responsibly, but judges others harshly for drinking..."

[Back to AElflaed:] I know, Dongal... it's verging on being in the midst of hypocricy.

We're surrounded by Indian-owned casinos here. The addiction-to-gambling problem is pretty bad and families are torn up over it. Is all gambling evil or is taking the rent and grocery money and losing it more evil than betting $5 on sports? Maybe it's not the gambling itself that's the sin, it's the irresponsibility, the failure to do duty. Maybe it's no good for addicts.

With drinking, perhaps there are times and places for some people, and no times or places for alcoholics. How does biochemistry affect virtue?

Sir Raymond the Quiet and Duke Henrik of Havn share a similar biochemical trait—very slow to anger. I don't think it's philosophy in them nearly so much as it's physical reality. I've been around both of them in totally volatile, infuriating circumstances and they weren't set off and they were not infuriated although others around them were. So they look virtuous. Sometimes people get the bye on one virtue or another, maybe.

We had a housemate (lots of them, over the years before we filled the house up with children) named Viscount Nicholas le Noir, originally from Atenveldt, barony of. He had a disease that hated alcohol (Krohn's) and he drank about a pint of brandy or I forget exactly what and six-to-twelve beers every day. He couldn't really afford that, and was in debt to us constantly. Underneath all that he was sweet and fascinating and talented. I was aiding and abetting him. He liked me. When I would occasionally nag him, try to lure him back to the light and the slight possibility that he didn't have to be killing himself he would remind me and all around that I had a problem with alcohol, because of my mom being an alcoholic.

It was my problem, he assured me sweetly and kindly.

Nick is no longer alive. He shot himself before Krohns and alcohol could kill him. Some time before that we had formally released him from our household. We couldn't afford to pay his honor-debts anymore. He had moved to Loch Salann and seemed to be doing better for a while, but perhaps it was the advantage of distance and not having to clean up after him that made it seem that way.

Can we talk about virtue objectively and philosophically or does it turn into stories? In my head there are hundreds of stories as the illustrations to all the virtues. I can try to be clinical and general if we need to be.

My best thought about improvement is a ratchet-wrench thought. If we work on improving ourselves and figure out how to avoid/prevent slipping down into our worst bad habits, and if we always make the better choice, we can get MUCH better in small but steady increments.

Although it probably hardly shows, I'm more patient than I was fifteen years ago. I forget to see the progress because I still see the lack and know I need more work. Most of the people who know me now didn't know me fifteen years ago, so I'm going to have to keep making progress to impress anyone (especially me).

AElflaed


Cathyn wrote:
To continue the drinking commentary, but to expand upon it, I believe that there aren't many acts which can be labeled as specifically virtuous or not, only in the mindset and bearing of the performer of the acts is the virtue or lack.

To drink and become jolly, bringing merriment to your companions and lightening the burdens of their workaday lives would probably be virtuous. Drinking and allowing the uninhibited state to allow one's behaviour to stray from acceptable norms (whatever the norms for that society may be) displays a lack of virtue at that time.

Charity is a virtue, but under the period definition, it (and largesse) is practiced "within ones means." If one gives to others, and yet can feed and house one's family, that is probably virtuous. To give to others, and go hungry, and have one's family go hungry and homeless, doesn't seem virtuous to me.

The same can be said for almost all the rest of the previously listed virtues, except for one, my favorite, franchise. Franchise is defined as practicing the other virtues with no thought of gain or profit, only to practice the virtues because they are the right thing to do. As long as the acts of ones life are done with virtuous intent and conscious thought, they are likely to be actually virtuous. If one further engages in these acts of virtue with no thought of personal gain, but because society will be happily advanced, franchise is satisfied.

Virtue is, then, a state of mind, and I hope the states you live in are yet one step better than you think they can be!

Cathyn


Date: Sat, Apr 3, 1999 1:57 PM EDT
From: SandraDodd
Subj: Re: VIRTUE and exhaustion

[quoting someone from a longer post; indented paragraphs are AElflaed-words]: [T]he definition I'm using for moderation is avoiding extremes.

So is moderation balance?
So what can be agreed upon as measuring stick for sobriety?
Me. I want to be the standard by which others are measured. ;-)

I think to some extent we do measure others by our own abilities and accomplishments. When we allow that people might be their best without even being on our scale, maybe that's compassion.

It doesn't seem to be able to be the same scale for everyone, but that also gives raise to the question ... are all the virtues on a sliding scale? YICKEES!
Do we wait for perfection to award or acknowledge someone's virtue? If a two-year-old says "thank you" that's praiseworthy. If I said "Thank you," and some of you said in condescending babytalk "AElflaed! That was so sweet that you said 'thank you'," I'd wonder about the extremity of the sarcasm! So when we're finding our way socially from one point to another, we respond to other people's feedback. Like being in a pinball machine the size of the universe, we are (if B.F. Skinner and his ilk are right) seeking certain stimuli while avoiding others. Sometimes it's more conscious than other times. Sometimes we choose someone or some set of people we hope to impress, and we gauge our actions by their response, and we do what we need to do to win approval.

I like to see improvement in people. If someone has never employed any social skills in public and suddenly he's attempting his first organizational or management project and he doesn't totally screw it up, I'll probably say "attaboy!" or the appropriate equivalent, to encourage him to try again, to soothe his nervousness, to reinforce his attempts. If Mistress Helena the Fortunate who was my student and is now a Pelican, who has held kingdom office and autocratted big events does just as good a job as that frightened first-timer, she won't get the same level of praise. In fact, she might get, "If you didn't have time to do it well, why didn't you ask for help?"

Martino used to say "AElflaed loves me, she will always stick up for me." Well he was a teenager, and Artan's new squire. I wrote him a note once upon a time and I'm going to quote it. (Balthazar has seen this; it was a letter to Martino and Balthazar.)

You've joked/commented that I loved you and always took your side and would always defend you. I didn't say, "Y'think!?" I just let it go. I have defended you a few times and it amounts, so far, to every time. I defended you because I thought you had been wronged by someone who should have known better, who was of higher rank and experience. I defended you because I thought you were right, or thought you were acting in good conscience.

The same energy I used to defend you could someday be turned upon you, though. The more you know and have, the more is expected of you. Your potential and ability grows and you don't get as much slack anymore. When you're no longer surrounded by a world of people who outrank you and have been in longer, when you are up in the middle of that mass of people, then I'll be watching to see that you're not mistreating or neglecting or embarrassing someone of lesser rank and experience than you have.

I'm writing more about judgment here than virtue, but maybe part of virtue is being highly valued by others. Maybe not.

Can a hermit practice virtue?

AElflaed

…. So perhaps virtue has to do with the potential or limitation or vice or handicap of the individual? Abstinence from alcohol is, in Cathyn, a virtue. Perhaps it is virtuous because it's a practice which takes force of will, for the good of others (and himself). Truthtelling, in me, is no big deal. I seem to have no choice….

[Someone] wrote that moderation is not always virtuous. I agree. If someone needs a poundin', somebody ought to break out of moderation and pound 'em. (Anyone remember for sure the line from "Analyze This" which goes something like, "Transform that grief into a murderous rage"?)

AElflaed


Date: Sun, Apr 4, 1999 1:53 PM EDT
From: SandraDodd
Subj: VIRTUES—Franchise

Last fall Cathyn read an article in Renaissance magazine (I think) and came in with news about "franchise" as a virtue, which was not a term with which we were familiar before that. Here's what I found in dictionaries:

American Heritage:
formerly, legal immunity from certain burdens, servitude or other restrictions

OED: To make or set free
to invest with a franchise or privilege

II: as an attribute of character or action: nobility of mind; liberality, generosity, magnanimity

What Cathyn took from what he had read was that franchise was being good for the sake of being good. There must be a linguistic/etymological element to it, I figure. Perhaps then it's being free with goodness. Perhaps it is enlightenment, in the undburdened and unrestricted sense.

Often "enlightenment" is seen as an opposite-of-darkness situation, but I'm sure it's also the opposite of being burdened with a great weight of sorrow, fear, confusion, and other "heavy stuff."

Cathyn, you've probably done more franchise-thinking than the rest of us. Might it be the medieval European version of "enlightenment"? Or is it, as with other virtues, needing action? Action with intent/basis?

For the Emily Litella aspect of me, I would like to share "Frenchize" (to make French ).

Here are quotes from the Oxford Dictionary. I modernized the spellings. There was an older 8th century one but I couldn't understand it enough to write it down or think about it so I left it out.

1386 gains franchise and all gentilesse

1450 And therefore remember us of your great pity and franchise

1485 Tell Reynawde...that he take no heed to my trespass and evil deed, but to his franchise.

1658 It might be remedied by an action of generosity and franchise

The definition "nobility of mind; liberality, generosity, magnanimity" covers both thought and action.

I'm glad Cathyn found it. I'm glad I've thought about it. I think selflessness was covering that concept for me even before this, so last August when I asked Artan what Cathyn might need to learn to be more like him and he said "selflessness," perhaps he could have said (had we all had the concept) "franchise."

Cathyn took to selflessness easily and commented right on the Outlands list:

Duke Artan gave me (indirectly) this advice, and I think it applies to more than just me, and helped me more than I can say. "Selflessness. He needs to know how good that can feel." I believe this is at the heart and essence of making the better choice. Try selflessness. See how *really* good it feels. You'll never go back.

AElflaed

___________________________

Date: Thu, Apr 8, 1999 12:47 PM EDT

Giovanni di Sienna wrote:

Mistress Aelflaed wrote about "better" and "worse" rather than "right" and "wrong." It caused me to think philosophic for a bit so please stand by...

Right and Wrong is primarily a Christian world view. As the U.S. is primarily a Christian nation, these concepts hold sway. We want the guilty party for being wrong. I was right, therefore you are wrong. I am good, therefore you are evil. Very black and white. I've had recent cause for conversation with one of my student and how our world view colours our impressions. He was upset because out of a conversation one view was rather different from the other parties' view. No surprise there for me but... black and white is what we are brought up with in the main.

I am not terribly familiar with eastern philosophies beyond a college course or two. My own faith professes a similar Better or Worse world view (surprisingly). Judaism does not have a very strong Sin concept. An even less strong Hell concept. In Judaism, doing something less than great is "missing the mark." You are supposed to try to hit the mark. Judaism understands we are less than perfect. We try to hit the mark. The goal is in aiming for Better. "Gosh, why live a good life then", exclaims some of my more Baptist friends. There is an answer for that... The reason for living the good life IS the good life. Not because of some distant Hell concept. But because we feel better for being better.

This brings me full circle to Mistress Aelflaed's other idea that no one does something truly altruistically because we feel good for doing good. Bingo. The reason for living the good life IS the good life. Ah Mistress Aelflaed, I had no idea you were a closet Jew. ha.

Done ranting now.

Giovanni

Cathyn responded:
"The reason for living the good life IS the good life. Ah Mistress Aelflaed, I had no idea you were a closet Jew. ha."

Oy carumba! Count me in.

Cathyn Goldberg


[and several things were deleted, so it might seem to be a jump; it is]


Date: Fri, Apr 9, 1999 1:39 AM EDT
From: SandraDodd
Subj: Re: RE: VIRTUE and exhaustion

[someone had written]

...what of these seems most important within the bounds of modern society? Which ones seem most important within the SCA? Why are there differences?

One thing that I've not seen much real use for in mundane settings is deference. The respectfulness and courtesy aspects of it can be used in offices and at meetings, but the whole deference package is greatly useful in the SCA.

Justice seems to work better in the real world than in the SCA. Life isn't fair, but SCA life is REALLY unfair (at least mine is, at least lately). This frustration comes and goes. I know I hold that good guys always win, but sometimes good guys suffer a frustrating setback on the way to their eventual win.

I like the Saxon stuff a bunch, mundanely and medievally (both for Sandra and for AElflaed):
steadfastness
uprightness
forthrightness
truthfulness

I think hermits can practice virtue, at least some virtues. A Christian hermit could practice love for God's creatures. He could pray. He could be a hard worker and not think evil thoughts. He could be patient and kind (to animals and to himself). Other hermits could do that too, I just ran my scenario with a Christian subject. Even though he's a hermit he's operating within the structure of the culture in which he was raised, or to which he later subscribed or converted.

AElflaed


Date: Fri, Apr 9, 1999 10:34 AM EDT
From: SandraDodd
Subj: VIRTUE and elation

People in our household had been dabbling with the application of virtues all last year, particularly with humility and pride (pride in a backhanded way), but when Cathyn came home in August there was a big surge about it because he said he wanted to be good. "Be Good"?

Aindrea had just two weeks before given me a glorious little book called Zen Lessons, The Art of Leadership, translated by Thomas Cleary, published by Shambhala Press (which I'm telling you because I think any of you who don't have one already might want to keep an eye out for it). She herself was reading Shambhala by Chogyam Trungpa. It had been an especially focussed and spiritual season already.

So I started thinking about the elements and realities of "being good." In Christian terms it is "Don't sin." That's not a good focus for being, though, being NOT something. And none of us in the household was being particularly Christian about life at the time (nor before, nor since, for the most part). So I started thinking maybe the "good" in being good shouldn't be the adjective "good" (as in opposite of bad, "don't be bad"), but the larger greater noun "Good," as in "embody goodness."

So the idea of someone being a depository or a generator of goodness started being the goal. And already Aindrea and Martino had gone out and accomplished "little peaks of whipped cream" (there is a hand gesture to go with this, hand out flat, palm down, draw the hand up and fingers together as though pulling up a peak of the imaginary whipped cream). It's related to leaving the site cleaner than you found it (socially speaking)—they would go into conversations or situations and do and be such that those involved perked up and *thought* sweet, lofty new thoughts and were glad that Aindrea and Martino had been there. I'm probably overstating what they were thinking at the time (maybe not), but it is possible that one can go out and be a kind of good that is transmitted to others, or which induces goodness in those others around them.

Enthusiasm, kindness, helpfulness, generosity of spirit, attention to others' moods—being that kind of good can make the difference between just-a-day and a really good day. If three or five people at an event are all in that mindset it can make everyone's day better, because it spreads.

Perhaps in generic-Spirituality-hippie-American-Buddhist terms, that is a form of piety.

AElflaed

_______________________ 4/21/99

My humility problem (the one of the moment) is that I have these really wonderful students whose responses to problems are more impressive than mine are, and so I feel unworthy to call myself teacher a lot of days, and then I look at them and think *LOOK WHAT I DID* and then I shame myself with "oh brother, if they weren't wonderful why would you spend time with them?" and then I think as penance I should find some really impossible cases to teach me some patience and real humility.

A lot of my thought-trails are all jumbly that way.

Holly, who's seven, said this on Friday in a quiet moment: "Mom, what are you teaching your students?" Because she hears those terms, "student" and "teacher," but she's not seeing any lessons or projects. Figuring she had a limited vocabulary and interest, I said, "To be nice, and to think."

She thought hard a couple of seconds, and said, "Why does AnneAliz need to be nice?" She sees AnneAliz as beyond need of any coaching. So do I.

It's a pretty great feeling to be surrounded by people of whom I am in awe


[Some of the parts that were deleted were about the happenings of the week, and some were too particular to individuals, but even with the excisions, there are some good ideas I hadn't expressed (and some I hadn't thought) for a long time, so I'm glad to have it out in public for others to find and consider. —Ælflæd of Duckford, February 2007]

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