The 8th Virtue: Silence

There are the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, discipline, justice, and courage. Then, there are the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Silence is not one of these seven virtues, but maybe it should be considered the eighth. It could even be the greatest of all the virtues as it gives greater weight to the others when silence in incorporated with them.

Wisdom

He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of calm quiet.

Proverbs 17:27

A squeaky wheel gets the grease. The reason why is simple. Nobody wants to hear it. The wise one who makes the most noise will grate upon the ears of those within earshot. Eventually, he will get silenced and his words, no matter how profound, will be lost.

Discipline

Let silence be your general rule; say only what is necessary and in few words.

Epictetus

Discipline is all about restraint. It is doing the thing you know you should be doing even when you do not feel like it. Exercise, diet, and sobriety all require discipline. What else requires it? Your tongue and the words you say. How many ships have been sunk from a set of loose lips? How many times has a foot been inserted into the mouth? I can’t speak for others, but I know I have erred in this regard too many times to count. All because I could not temper my tongue. The sad part is in every instance, I created a communication barrier that did not need to exist. Every time! If silence was my general rule, I would have come away clean. Instead, I tripped with my tongue and fell on my face.

Justice

The closer people are to the truth, the more tolerant  they are of the mistakes of others.

Leo Tolstoy

Truth does not need to be loud. The whisper of truth is so profound that it can be heard throughout the universe. And it is in silence that we have our greatest capacity to understand it.

The ones that do not understand this are the ones who make the greatest noise. They want to be heard. They want to be acknowledged and the farther away from the truth they get, the louder they become. Look at the greatest issues that face our society. Look at the ones that would persuade you to their side. If it feels forced, if coercion is the modus operandi, one must beware.

Courage

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow.

Mary Anne Radmacher

One does not see a grenade tossed amongst his comrades and exclaim, “Oh look, a grenade. I will jump on this and save everybody!” No, the hero simply jumps on it. He makes the ultimate sacrifice without any hope for acclaim. Sacrifices should be made in silence. Anything less cheapens the act and even repels those who would normally applause such actions.

The agreement is made between the mind and the heart. “This action, I will perform.” We make many of those quiet contracts throughout the day. As Benjamin Franklin once stated, “Well done is better than well said.” It is the action that counts. And if we cannot complete the task, then we listen to the quiet voice in our hearts that commits to turning the failures of the previous day into tomorrow’s success.

Faith

The disciple James wrote that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Simply put, true faith is demonstrated by our actions. One can cry out their beliefs all they want. But without living it through their actions, it is worthless. It is dead. Words mean little if there is no action behind them.

If we are always crying out our faith, what are the chances they will fall on deaf ears? People don’t really care what we say, but they do care what we do and how we make them feel. Talking to someone until I am blue in the face will assuredly alienate them. Better to pique their curiosity by quietly demonstrating my faith.

Hope

Almost 100% of my hopes are selfish. I hope others do well because I love them. I hope for a better world because I and those I care for live in it. I hope for myself because I see what is possible and have the desire to achieve it. My hopes for my future not only benefit me, but they benefit those in my circle. Therefore, I visualize what it is that I want to achieve, I make the plans, and then do all that I can to execute them.

Persist in visualizing the ideal man you are determined to be, and always think of yourself as you are ambitious to become. This mental attitude will help you to match your dream with its reality.

Orison Swett Marden

This is my communication with my future self, not with others. My hopes I keep close to my heart. Like faith, it is not what I say that matters, it is the action. Why brag about my hopes to others when they have their own hopes and dreams to contend with?

Charity

“Look at me. This person suffered, and I, out of the goodness of my heart helped them! I am awesome.”

Making such a statement tears down the goodness of the deed. It builds up one’s pride and highlights the distress of the recipient. Who is the good deed for: the giver or the receiver?

The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let your good works be so profound that your words are not necessary. Like courage, diminishing them with your self-righteous acclaim lessens the effect and may cause resentment.

Silence

The 8th virtue and possibly the most sublime. It is a virtue to be enjoyed by those around us, as well as one, that we can enjoy ourselves.

Examining Epictetus #27 A Life That Flows Smoothly

Whoever is making progress, after learning from philosophers that desire is directed toward good things and avoidance directed toward bad, and having also learned that impassivity and a good flow of life are not attained except through unerring desire and unfailing avoidance—that person will do away with desire altogether, or else defer it to another time, and exercise avoidance only on things within the moral sphere.

Discourses 1.4.1

I listened to the lecture as if Epictetus was alive and speaking directly to me. I know how many times I have failed in the past. I am afraid of how many more failures are to come if I cannot learn from my mistakes. The only choice comes in what I do in the present moment.

All my failures are the result of poor choices. I have gone to life’s creditors too many times and have racked up a massive amount of debt. It was a buy now and pay later in almost every aspect of my life.

I have the standard debt that has now become the norm today: mortgage, car payments, a little on a credit card here, a little on a loan there. If I only purchased based on what I physically had, I would be in the black. As it stands, I only see red.

These days, I generally consume less calories than I burn. Why? Because I am paying off the debt in my body.  Like my financial ledger, my body is in the red. Rather than temperance, I withdrew from the banks of gluttony, drunkenness, and laziness. They freely gave, and I took more than my fair share.

My mind is paying off a debt as well. I could have kept my head down and stayed in my studies. Instead, I wasted my formative years with my eyes on the digital screens. Rather than learning, I chose vain pursuits that used up my greatest asset: time.

In a nutshell, I didn’t contemplate good or bad. I erred toward the bad indulging in the fleeting pleasures of the moment. I made poor choices resulting in debt that I am still paying today.

But if virtue holds this promise—to secure happiness, impassivity, and a good flow of life—then progress toward virtue must involve progress toward these other states as well. For wherever the perfection of anything tends, progress is always an approach towards the same thing.

Discourses 1.4.3-4

I couple of years ago I started a new blog series covering the seven virtues. I felt compelled to write these for my son, compelled to train him toward a life of virtue. I wanted him to be happy, to be a champion in all he pursued, and to have a good flow of life.

How could I train him if my own life was lacking in those areas? Therefore, I put in constantly in my mind. I studied the words and lives of those who went before me. And then, I wrote. In the beginning, I was at odds internally. How could I write to others about things that I continued to struggle with in my own life? Thus began my evolution. I had to be self-effacing and write of my struggles. Rather than be a hypocrite, I had to write many of the messages to myself. I was directing myself toward the promise of virtue.

What is the goal of virtue, after all, except a life that flows smoothly?

Discourses 1.4.5b

This is what I want for my son. Even more so, it is what I want for myself. Before my journey into virtue,  I was a ship tossed at sea. Every trifle, no matter how small, threatened to capsize me. Instead of controlling the things within my power, I looked to the things outside and played the victim.

To have the life that flows smoothly, I must be the rock Marcus Aurelius spoke about that the waves crash over, standing unmoved while the rage of the sea falls still around it. The rock does not cry out for a respite. Instead, it does what the rock was designed for and bends the sea to its very existence. Rather than conforming to the whims of the world and allowing it to sweep me away from my intended destination, I must bend the pattern around me. I must be the rock.

Look for it in your volition, friend—that is, in your desire and avoidance. Make it your goal never to fail in your desires or experience things you would rather avoid; try never to err in impulse and repulsion; aim to be perfect also in the practice of attention and withholding judgment.

Discourses 1.4.11

To live the virtuous life is simply a matter of choice. It is a matter of righteousness. Choose what is good and right; avoid what is bad and evil. As Epictetus states, our goal is to desire good and not fail in obtaining it. Likewise, avoid the bad and not fail in doing so.

I love the last line in the above selection: aim to be perfect in the practice. It is a goal, not a demand. If you can do it, great! If not, try again next time. The hope is for progress. And what is the progress we are targeting? Being in the present moment and making no rash judgments. It sounds like being even-keel and level-headed, like a rock amongst the waves.

Where is progress, then? If there is anyone who renounces externals and attends instead to their character, cultivating and perfecting it so that it agrees with nature, making it honest and trustworthy, elevated, free, unchecked and undeterred; and if they’ve learned that whoever desires or avoids things outside of their control cannot be free or faithful, but has to shift and fluctuate right along with them, subject to anyone with the power to furnish or deprive them of these externals; and if from the moment they get up in the morning they adhere to their ideals, eating and bathing like a person of integrity, putting their principles into practice in every situation they face—the way a runner does when he applies the principles of running, or a singer those of musicianship—that is where you will see true progress embodied, and find someone who has not wasted their time making the journey here from home.

Discourses 1.4.18-21

Control what is your power to control. That is the key to the smooth flow of life. And that, my friend, is progress.


Feature photo by Nicholas Ng on Unsplash

Thinking You Can Win

Some of the ancient philosophers were not believers in hope. They felt it gave someone a false sense. Though I appreciate their insight, I will continue to choose hope.

Like many, I am a fan of sports. I love to engage in athletic contests where I can pit my abilities against an opponent. These are contests of strength, endurance, skill, heart, and mental acuity.

When I have the opportunity, I love to watch others compete. I love the feel-good stories of individuals who found success after facing insurmountable odds. Who doesn’t love the underdog or the Cinderella? Who doesn’t love seeing the poor kid from the bad neighborhood overcome all the bad breaks life has thrown at him?

Winners, especially the ones who win consistently, all have one thing in common. They all believe they can win. They all had hope in coming away victorious. It doesn’t matter if it was the kid on the street or the rich kid with all the advantages. The ones that believed in themselves and believed they could win were the ones who eventually won.

Sooner or later, those who win are those who think they can.

Richard Bach

There are many keys to winning. You must train. You must learn. Without the work, you leave it all to chance. But winning in life is no game of chance. To win consistently, you must train in the virtues of:

  • Wisdom: learn the game, the rules, the strategies, and your opponent.
  • Discipline: a day-after-day diligence towards your goal.
  • Justice: to play within the rules ethically, to be a champion in your conduct despite the actions of others.
  • Courage: to be brave, to push yourself beyond your known limits.
  • Hope: to believe in yourself even when others doubt you.

Winning consistently only comes to those who believe they can.


Feature photo by Capstone Events on Unsplash